Blinded by the Light – WWII’s Secret Project
Updated: Apr 11, 2018
Charles Odell Sears had a secret. One he carried with him for 41 years. Odell, from Brownfield, Texas, entered the U.S. Army in February 1944. He and 27 other men from Brownfield all passed their physicals in Lubbock that month. They were soon headed for Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and their “introduction” to the Army. Next stop for Odell was in Ft. Lewis, WA. for three months training where he was told he was now a member of the 739th Tank Battalion. Then it was on to Ft. Knox, KY for tank field training. Here is what happened next in Odell’s own words:
“We were converted to a top-secret outfit but it was still the 739th. We were all investigated by the F.B.I. and sworn to secrecy. We were not allowed to speak or get in direct contact with anyone outside our outfit. The British had invented a secret tank gadget (CDL or Coastal Defense Light) that they thought would revolutionize the use of tanks in combat. It was a carbon arc lamp that was placed in a tank’s turret and its light was projected through a slot in the front of the turret. An operator would intermittently change the light colors. It was meant to confuse the Germans and allow our infantry to advance between the tanks and launch surprise attacks. Because of the hedgerows in Germany, it was not nearly as effective. By the time we arrive in Germany, the German’s were retreating and as far as I know, we only used it twice.
We were sent to Camp Bouse in the Arizona desert about 50 miles from Phoenix. We were there from January to April 1944 for infantry and night tank training. This was top secret beginning in 1942 and the story was not released until 1983. The 190,000 men who trained there still remember many of the hardships. Nothing was out there that didn’t bite, stick or sting. After three months we went back to Ft. Knox, KY.
We left New York on the British ship, the S.S. Mitchell and were on our way to Europe on July 25th, 1944. We landed in Liverpool, England around noon on August 6. The ship we were on carried 5,000 American troops, its crew and a large cargo of vehicles, guns, suppliers, tanks and equipment. We were in a large convoy of 92 ships.”
Odell’s outfit left England for Le Havre, France on November 12, 1944. The 739th made its way through Paris, Vezenay and on to Gulpen, Holland and went through the Battle of the Bulge area. They encountered heavy resistance on their way from the Germans. One of Odell’s good friends, Samuel Walker, was killed by German 88 artillery in Germany as he and two others were getting their mess kits from their tanks. Odell had many other close calls and in one German town his unit captured around 200 enemy soldiers. One of his own men dropped a Belgian pistol which went off and shot Odell in the leg. After a medic stopped the bleeding, he was taken to a field hospital to recover.
Odell was discharged on November 29, 1945. He says he “got back into battle on December 15, 1945”. That’s when he and Louise married! However, he went on to say that “She is the love of my life and has been by my side for 68 years.” They were blessed with two children, Joe and Susan and grandchildren. Odell worked in hardware in Brownfield for many years and was a City Judge for 11-1/2 years and very active in his community. He was able to go on the 2012 Honor Flight with his wife, brother Ernest (also a WWII veteran) and sister-in-law Anna. Odell passed away on May 14, 2014.
Submitted by Larry A. Williams
Texas South Plains Honor Flight Committee