I am always on the lookout for information related to the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in which my father-in-law served during WWII. Recently I purchased two books about the M7 “Priest,” the mobile 105 mm Howitzer artillery piece utilized by the 276th AFA as well as by numerous other similar U.S. and British units. The British first called it “Priest” because the rounded machine gun mount resembled a pulpit.
“Images of War M7 Priest” contains over 200 photos of the M7, most in black & white and some in color. Descriptions accompany each picture and, in the combat photos, identify the unit in which the M7 served. On page 96 there is a photo of soldiers of Battery C of the 276th AFA replacing the track on their M7. Although my father-in-law served in Battery A, it is exciting to see Battery C of the 276th represented in this book.
The book also provides various types of information about the M7. Discussions include its original concept at the beginning of WWII to the companies who designed and manufactured it. Data on the different models and the number of each produced by which company is included as well as details on what was changed on each model. Technical data on the M7, on the Howitzer and on the organization of a typical battery is included in the appendix.
Photos show the M7 in different settings. There are training photos and pictures from North Africa where the British were the first to use it. The gun proved so effective it was used in Italy, in the invasion of France and the push across Europe to Germany. It was also used in the Philippines. Later the M7 saw service in Korea.
I also purchased a second book by David Doyle, “M7 Priest Walk Around.” This book provides detailed photos and explanations of many aspects of three different models of the M7. There are pictures of things like the tail lights, sprockets, idler brackets and ammo storage. Closeups of the driver’s position, various views of the Howitzer from the gunner’s viewpoint, the panoramic telescope for sighting the targets and numerous views from inside the fighting compartment fuel the imagination as to what it would have been like to the men who manned this mobile artillery piece.
For you technical nuts there’s lots to see and read about in this compact volume. Most of the pictures are of M7’s in museums rather than in combat, but some photos were taken before and during WWII.
These books were written by David Doyle and are available on his website David Doyle Books as well as other online outlets. David Doyle’s website features books on all kinds of military equipment, from armor to airplanes to vehicles to ships. He also has books about British and German military equipment. I am getting nothing for recommending David Doyle’s books, just pointing them out anyone who may be interested.
While researching the history of the 4th Armored Division during WWII, I came across a fascinating memoir “Battle Rattle” by Roger Boas. The memoir was written when Boas was older as an effort to convey to his family what he had been through during the war and how those experiences influenced the rest of his life.
The deeply moving account begins in the author’s early years and provides an insightful background as to his physical and emotional state at the beginning of the war. Although a practicing Christian Scientist, Boas was acutely aware of his family’s Jewish heritage. This gave him a perspective that was different from many American soldiers. A graduate of Stanford and its Artillery ROTC, Boas entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant in early 1942. The newly minted officer went through training in several locations around the country and was eventually assigned to the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Armored Division.
The title of the book, “Battle Rattle,” is a term Boas says was used to refer to the ailment soldiers suffered as a result of combat similar to the term “Shell Shock” used during World War I. The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which defined the psychological and physical disorder that results from experiencing various types of trauma, did not come into use until Boas was much older. As he says in the book, after World War II soldiers were given no assistance in returning to civilian life. No one acknowledged that military personnel who had been in combat might have problems that prevented them from settling down, from making sound decisions, from dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Many of these combat veterans had trouble holding down jobs. Some developed drinking problems. Some suffered from bouts of depression or raging tempers. Boas realized late in his life that he suffered from PTSD, as did many others, including my father-in-law.
The book is well written and provides many personal accounts of events during the war. One event in particular that affected Boas deeply was when he and another officer, Bob Parker, came upon the Ohrdruf Camp which they would later learn was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Images of emaciated bodies piled up after being executed and partially burned bodies would stay with him the remainder of his life.
If anyone is wondering why I am interested in the 4th Armored Division, my father-in-law’s unit, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, was attached to the Fourth Armored Division in March and April 1945. I wanted to learn more about the 4th Armored Division’s activities during this time. It was an added bonus to find a memoir of a soldier who had served in an Armored Field Artillery Battalion and whose experiences might be similar to those of my father-in-law.
There were differences between the two which affected each’s view of the war. My father-in-law was a sergeant assigned to one of the M-7 track-mounted artillery guns where Roger Boas was a lieutenant who served as a Forward Observer for the 94th AFA. Nevertheless, the memoir provided insight into the thinking of a soldier and how he dealt with his experiences. The account also provided vivid accounts of the action that the 4th Armored Division saw during the time the 276th AFA was attached.
Another reason for my research is for my current work-in-progress. I strive to make the information about the war as accurate as possible. Roger Boas has provided me with insight into not only the mind of a soldier but also into his emotional responses to very stressful events. This will be invaluable in creating a realistic hero in my novel.
Colonel Ray Hosley Smith, originally of Shinglehouse, PA, retired in 1973 after an illustrious career in the U. S. Army. At his death in 2013, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Col. Smith started his military service as a Second Lieutenant in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion during WWII.
What do I know about Col. Ray H. Smith’s memoirs? Some years ago a fellow veteran of the 276th AFA, Pvt. Clinton H. Nichols, copied some of the pages of Col. Smith’s memoirs. For some unknown reason Nichols only copied a portion of Chapter 3 which starts with the beginning of World War II, Smith’s entry into the Army and early training. The copied pages end with the account of the long drive north to Luxembourg with Patton’s Third Army in December 1944, the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. Recently, Clinton Nichol’s niece sent me these memoir pages.
The first hand account of Lt. Smith as the Reconnaissance Officer for Battery “B” tells a vivid, personal story of the 276th’s first months of combat in France. But this is only the beginning of the 276th experience in WWII. They went on to fight through the terrible winter of 1944-45 pushing the Germans back to the lines before the famous Ardennes offensive. They crossed the Siegfried Line into Germany, fought their way to and across the Rhine and continued to combat enemy resistance within Germany. The 276th reached Czechoslovakia before the German surrender May 8, 1945.
The 276th’s WWII story did not end with the German surrender. Their orders sent them back across the Atlantic to train for the planned invasion of Japan. The Japanese surrender, brought on by the atomic bombs, precipitated the inactivation of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in October, 1945.
Lt. Ray H. Smith decided to remain in the Army and make it his career. He went on to fight in Korea and eventually in Vietnam earning medals and awards along the way. Read Col. Smith’s obituary here. Or at Find a Grave.
A group of family members of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion have continued to share what information and pictures they have about the battalion and its veterans. We would love to read the remainder of Col Smith’s memoirs.
Please contact me via the Contact page on this website if you have a copy of Col. Smith’s memoirs or if you know where we might find a copy. If you are able to share the memoirs with us, you will have our undying gratitude.
We’ve all seen these group pictures taken when the men finished training or when they returned from overseas. Often we only glance at them. But for those of us whose WWII veteran served in the unit in question, we pull out our magnifying glasses or zoom in to see if we recognize the face of that one special young man. Was he your grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandfather, father, uncle or a close family friend? What did he look like back then? How old (or young) was he?
I recently received this group picture of the men in Battery B of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion from a family member of one of the men. My Father-in-law was in Battery A, but I still enjoy looking at all these young faces. Zoom in and look at some of their expressions. They’re priceless.
The photo was taken at Camp Phillips, Kansas, after their training had been completed. From here they would go to Fort Riley, Kansas, for testing and then on to Tennessee where they participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers. The 276th was pulled out of the Tennessee Maneuvers and sent to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, where they were converted from a regular field artillery battalion to an Armored Field Artillery Battalion. In other words, their tow-behind guns were exchanged for track-mounted 105 mm howitzers. After a few months of training on the new equipment, the battalion traveled to Camp Shanks, New York, where they sailed for England.
The below link is to a hand-written document showing the names of most of the men in the photo.
I always love to hear the stories passed down in families about how their parents or grandparents met, fell in love and started a life together during World War II. These stories reflect the realities of the time. The country was at war. Men, from age 18 to 45, either volunteered to serve in the military or they were drafted. Young men and many young women left home either to go into the military or to go to work at a defense plant or to go into some type training, such as nursing. All across the country single men and women met and dated. Couples were separated and those already married struggled to maintain a marriage through separation. Often the wife followed her husband to wherever he was stationed. It was a time of great turmoil in our country. And I find it fascinating.
A member of the extended family of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion shared one of those stories with me. Morris Irving Grayson served in Battery B of the 276th while my father-in-law served in Battery A. Irving’s daughter, Teresa Williams, agreed to let me share her parents’ story on my website as a way to keep the memories of the war alive and to let younger people know what soldiers and their families went through.
In 1941, Irving Grayson and Doris Smiley graduated from Childress High School in Childress, Texas. Although they went to the same school in the same town, they didn’t get to know each other until the next year when Doris noticed Irving at the local open air skating rink. Irving was a skilled skater and loved to show off. The two started dating.
Irving planned to enter the military in 1942 but he had appendicitis. His illness delayed his enlistment until April 27, 1943, when he signed up in Lubbock, Texas. He went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training. Before completion of the course he volunteered to become a paratrooper and was transferred to Camp Tocca, Georgia. At that time it was more prestigious to be a paratrooper and they were paid more than regular soldiers.
While in paratrooper training in Georgia, Irving complained of the extreme heat, the humidity and the miles of daily marches carrying full packs. One night his sergeant came into the barracks and said, “If you don’t want to be here, we don’t want you here, there will be a bus out front tonight. Be on it.” Irving made sure he was on that bus even though he had no idea where the bus would take him.
The bus took Irving to a train station and the train took him to Camp Phillips, Kansas, where he was assigned to the 276th Armored Field Artillery. The 276th was originally a typical field artillery battalion with tow-behind artillery pieces. Irving began training for the field artillery.
While at Camp Phillips, Doris joined Irving bringing along their new baby. Irving and Doris were married in Salina, Kansas, December 2, 1943. Housing was scarce around these new Army training camps. Irving and Doris rented a tiny apartment in what must have been an older apartment building or converted house. Doris later told her family that she found a rat in the baby’s crib one night and after that the baby slept in the bed with her.
At Camp Phillips Irving served as assistant to the supply sergeant. The sergeant left unexpectedly, probably reassigned, so Irving took over his duties. Although doing the sergeant’s job, Irving was not promoted as he thought he should have been. In early 1944 the 276th moved east to Tennessee for extensive maneuvers intended to simulate combat conditions. During these maneuvers, the Army decided to convert the 276th from a field artillery battalion to an “armored” field artillery battalion. They were pulled out of the maneuvers and sent to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, where they trained on the M-7 self-propelled, track-mounted 105 mm howitzer cannon. These track-mounted guns had proved to be more maneuverable in North Africa and the Army believed they would be able to keep up with the tanks after the Allies invaded Europe.
When Irving went to Tennessee, Doris and the baby went back to Childress. The couple began corresponding by letter. Doris sent him pictures of their son with notes about his progress. Irving came home on leave before he went overseas. Later Doris wrote to tell him she was expecting another child. Their second son was born while Irving was in Europe fighting the Germans. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Doris, with one baby and another on the way and her husband overseas in danger of being killed. She probably wrote cheerful letters with pictures of the babies to keep his spirits up.
Adding to the difficulty for this young mother was an especially disturbing letter she received from Irving. It had been intended for an English girl he met during his brief stay in England but the letter got switched with his letter to Doris. When Doris received the wrong letter, she of course assumed the worst, that he was cheating on her, and she did not write him for some time. Irving insisted the he and the English girl were just friends and eventually the trouble was resolved.
While in England, Irving became a jeep driver responsible for carrying messages between the battalion and headquarters. He also scouted for locations to set up the battery headquarters and drove damaged half-tracks and M7’s to the maintenance platoon for repairs. The 276th fought their way across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany from September, 1944, until the German surrender on May 8, 1945.
On June 10, 1945, Corporal Irving Grayson was presented the bronze star for heroism by Brig. General John C. Lenz. In one of the ironies of war, Irving thought he received the medal for one action when in fact he received it for something different. He told his family this story —
As he lay in the street of a small German town, a heavy artillery shell went went over his head hitting a building in front of him and skidded along the side of the building but did not explode. Then another shell went over his head hitting the same building and again skidded along the without exploding. Irving realized you could tell where the gun firing on them might be located by the angle the shells were hitting and skidding. He crawled on his stomach a couple of blocks back to Battery B headquarters and told his commander what he had observed. The commander told a sergeant of the heavy artillery to follow Irving back to where he had seen the shells hitting the building. They crawled back and located the German gun. They crawled back to the heavy artillery and the sergeant directed his men where to fire. The German gun was hit and American lives were saved. All his commanders were congratulating Irving on what he had done, so he thought he received the bronze star for this. See the newspaper article for the account from the Bronze Star citation.
The 276th AFA returned to the states in July, 1945, as part of the experienced combat troops who were redeployed for the invasion of Japan. The men received leave to visit their families before reporting for additional training for the invasion. During this leave another child was conceived and that child, Teresa, was born in 1946. The war ended in August, 1945, after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.
Irving returned to his old job in a packing plant in Childress, Texas, and a fourth child arrived in 1947. He later trained to be a machinist, probably using the GI Bill, and in 1951 the family moved to Dallas. In 1953 the couple’s fifth child made her appearance making three boys and two girls.
Irving and Doris raised their five children and, after twenty-one years of marriage, they divorced. Both remarried and they remained close to their children.
You might say that Irving and Doris didn’t have the “typical” WWII romance. But their experiences were typical for the time. A hasty marriage with the strains of separation, fear and anxiety. Doris didn’t know if Irving would return to her, didn’t know how long he would be gone. And Irving longed for his wife and babies. He missed the birth of his second son and the experience of seeing both sons early life. He could only write censored letters and hope his parents and hers were helping his young wife and children through this difficult time. Their love, loyalty and determination brought them through the war and the years of adjustment afterwards, like so many other couples of that time.
If you want to share a family story about World War II, please send it to me along with any pictures you have. I would love to hear your stories and share them here on my website.
My husband and I recently traveled to Tennessee for a sad event – a family funeral. While driving through Tullahoma, we passed the Tullahoma Army National Guard Armory and out front sat an M-7 track-mounted 105 mm artillery piece like my father-in-law’s gun from WWII. Of course, we stopped and looked it over and took pictures.
This was only the second time we have seen an M-7, also called the “Priest,” in person and needless-to-say we were excited. We never imagined seeing my father-in-law’s gun so close to home. We quickly spread the word among the family members so that they too could share the experience. My father-in-law, Paul Whitaker, trained on the M-7 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then shipped out to Europe where he was in combat from July 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
Finding the gun in Tullahoma was ironic because in early 1944 my father-in-law’s outfit was taking part in the “Tennessee Maneuvers” in the Tullahoma/Coffee County area near Camp Forrest, Tennessee. They were pulled out of the maneuvers and sent to Fort Campbell where they were converted from a standard field artillery battalion to a mobile field artillery battalion. As part of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion my father-in-law fought his way across Europe for the most part under the command of Patton’s Third Army.
The M-7 is in front of the “old” Army National Guard Armory in Tullahoma. This facility is utilized by the 1176th Transportation Company of the Tennessee National Guard. Nearby stands the brand-new Tullahoma Readiness Center dedicated in August 2012. This new facility houses the 30th Troop Command of the Tennessee Army National Guard, the latest generation of the “Old Hickory” legacy, descendants of the WWII era 30th Infantry Division.
The plaque in front of the M-7 in Tullahoma describes the gun pretty well. It states – “The M7 “Priest” 105mm howitzer had a 7 man crew that fired artillery rounds to a range of 11,500 meters during WWII and the Korean War. It was powered by a 9 cylinder Continental engine and had a range of 200 miles. A total of 3,490 M7’s were built from 1942 to 1945.”
Several years ago we saw an M-7 at a VFW near Flint, Michigan. We were visiting my sister and brother-in-law when he told us about seeing the gun at the VFW. He wasn’t sure if the gun was the same as my father-in-law’s gun so he took us out to see it. That time my husband climbed up on top just to get a feel for what it was like up there. He didn’t attempt to climb aboard the one in Tullahoma. I’m afraid we’ve gotten too old for such adventures. Never-the-less we were both thrilled to see the gun.
I have written about this gun and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion several times before. If you are interested, check out my posts in the Category “276th AFA.”
The 70th anniversary of D-Day is approaching and many of us will commemorate that history-making event, but the invasion of Europe was not the only thing happening in the days leading up to and right after June 6, 1944. A world-wide war did not come to a stand-still for one event regardless of its momentous implications. So I decided to research and find out what else was going on.
Where was my father-in-law and the others in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion? They were at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, training on their M-7 track-mounted 105 mm guns and on small arms. After May 1 all furloughs had been discontinued in anticipation of orders to ship out. Fortunately for me, those orders were delayed and local passes continued. Had they not been my father-in-law and mother-in-law would never have met. They were married on June 20, 1944, after knowing each other only twelve days. Orders to leave Camp Campbell for a secret destination finally came on June 23. The battalion traveled by train to Camp Shanks, N. Y., for shipment overseas. They sailed for England on July 1, 1944.
Despite the build up of troops in England prior to D-Day, many remained in the U.S. awaiting overseas orders. Once the invading forces established a beachhead, additional soldiers and equipment would be needed to retake Europe.
In June 1944, the 97th Infantry Division was training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. As a soldier in the 97th, my uncle Roland Roby would not sail for Europe until February, 1945. He later went to Japan as part of the occupation forces.
Meanwhile, my uncle, D. T. (Boots) Knight, was on the other side of the world fighting the Japanese. The 947th Field Artillery Battalion in support of the 41st Infantry Division landed on Biak Island, just north of western New Guinea, on May 27, 1944. Approximately 11,000 Japanese troops defended the island and its airfields. Prior to the landing, intelligence indicated only 4,400 Japanese were on the island so the campaign proved more difficult than anticipated. The island was not fully taken until August. The 947th received a commendation for their firing on Biak. Prior to the Biak campaign the 947th had been part of the Hollandia campaign on New Guinea in April and May. They would help to retake the Philippines beginning in October.
Today many think of the war against the Japanese as a naval war. Naval battles did take place throughout the Pacific. Ships of the U.S. Navy also delivered the men and equipment to the far-flung islands. Once on land the U.S. Army did as much of the fighting as the Marines. The war against the Japanese was divided into two separate commands. The Pacific Ocean Area Command under Admiral Chester Nimitz included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands. In the Southwest Pacific Theater General Douglas McArthur commanded an area that included the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo and the western portion of the Solomon Islands.
In looking at the map I am amazed at how close the Japanese came to invading Australia. In June, 1944, the Japanese still controlled vast reaches of the Pacific as well as territory on the Asian mainland. The U. S. had pushed them off Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and in joint operations with the British fought for control of New Guinea throughout 1944 allowing McArthur to return to the Philippines in October 1944.
While the Allies were battling to hold the beachhead in Normandy, the U. S. Navy took on the Japanese in the battle of Saipan on June 15, 1944. Then from June 19-21 the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged.
In Italy, the liberation of Rome came on June 5, 1944, after a long, drawn out fight up the boot of Italy. Despite the surrender by the Italians in 1943, the Germans would not relinquish their hold on Italy. After the initial Allied landings on the Italian peninsula at Salerno in September 9, 1943 the Allies fought their way north. With a second landing further north at Anzio in January 22, 1944, the Allies hoped to cut off the Germans. Instead they dug in to the mountainous terrain. The battle around Monte Cassino raged from January until mid-May. When it finally fell the road to Rome opened to the allied advance with its liberation on June 5, 1944. But capturing the Italian capital did not mean the Germans would surrender. The fight in Italy raged on as the Germans pulled back into the mountains. They fought ferociously and did not surrender to the Allies until April, 1945.
On June 9 Stalin launched an attack on Finland. On June 10 in Oradour-sur-Glane the Germans locked 642 French men, women and children in a church and burned it to the ground in retaliation for resistance activities in the area. On the same day in Distomo, Greece, members of the Waffen-SS killed 214 civilians for the same reason. On June 20 in India the three-month siege of Imphal is lifted forcing the Japanese to retreat into Burma. The heavy losses of this defeat marked the turning point of the Burma campaign.
As you can see, in June 1944 war raged around the world. It would take another year of hard fighting before the Germans and the Japanese were defeated and peace returned to our planet.
After leaving I-40 we wound our way along the Foothills Parkway, a crooked, two-lane roadway through heavily wooded mountainous terrain. The quiet beauty calmed us after the nerve-wracking drive crushed between semi’s and the concrete wall dividing the interstate as it snaked its way over the mountains. Our destination awaited only a few miles away in Gatlinburg. We soon reached the congested streets of the vacation mecca atop the mountains. Turning left, we climbed, passing motels and restaurants, until we reached the narrow, steep, winding driveway up to the top where our hotel, the Park Vista, stood overlooking the narrow valley that is Gatlinburg.
This was where the 276th Armored Field Artillery chose to hold their final reunion. The destination for five aging WWII veterans to reunite once more. Time may have reduced their numbers but not their spirits. The dwindling group of veterans and their families were joined by sons, daughters and wives of other, already deceased veterans – all coming together to remember and celebrate their service so many years ago.
My husband was one of those sons of deceased 276th veterans. We were newcomers to the reunions yet we were welcomed into the fold like long-lost relatives. The people who gathered at the Park Vista, related only by the service of a group of young men almost seventy years ago, were the most gracious, most friendly and warmest group of people we have ever encountered.
Organized in 1943, the 276th AFA Battalion was one of several artillery units converted to mobile, track-mounted 105 mm Howitzers (M-7’s) to provide mobile artillery support to infantry and armored divisions. In the summer of 1944, after the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 276th crossed the Atlantic, landed in England, then crossed the channel to France. The Battalion fired its first combat round in September, 1944. From that point they were in continuous combat, battling their way across Europe, until the Germans surrendered in May, 1945. By July, they were again crossing the Atlantic, but this time their destination was home, not for good, but for additional training before being sent to the Pacific. The war with Japan still raged. Fortunately for these combat weary young men, the Japanese surrendered before their unit was redeployed.
The veterans of the 276th fascinated us with their positive, even joyful, attitudes as they answered questions, re-told old stories and remembered their fellow soldiers who had passed away in the intervening years. Sons and daughters shared stories their fathers had told to them. None of the five were officers. Their military jobs ranged from clerk to radio man to mechanic to driver yet they told stories of bullets that came within inches, artillery shells bursting nearby, encounters with enemy soldiers and freezing weather.
Of the five Batteries in the Battalion, four were represented at the reunion – Headquarters Battery, Battery A, Battery C, and Service Battery. Pictures of earlier reunions, with the participants all decked out in their finery, relayed the history of these events. A map detailed the Battalion’s journey as it fought its way across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Old pictures were perused for familiar faces. Watching a taped interview with one veteran brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Such amazing men who went off to war at such a young age leaving their families and loved ones behind.
They journeyed from various locales to reunite with old friends. For these elderly men and their wives the trip could not have been easy nor possible without help from their families. The devoted son of one veteran organized the event and, despite his father’s failing health, drove from Indiana so there could be one last reunion. The eldest veteran, at ninety-seven, flew in from Massachusetts accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law. Another man from Georgia brought his wife, children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. And a former Tennessean and his wife were transported from Cincinnati by their son and daughter-in-law.
The son of a deceased veteran drove down from Milwaukee. This faithful son told of his trip to Europe to retrace the route of the 276th. He and his father, both devoted history buffs, had attended previous reunions and the son had known many of the 276th veterans. They planned to take the European trip together but his father did not live to make it so the son went alone in honor of his father.
Another son, daughter and son-in-law journeyed across the mountains from North Carolina for the reunion. Like my husband’s father, their father never came to any of the reunions. He talked of his service but would never contact any of the men he served with. After his death his son decided to meet some of the men his father fought with so many years ago and participate in the reunions. Knowledgable and friendly, these North Carolinians shared stories from former reunions, of other veterans now gone and reenactments. They generously shared their photos, too.
The reunion was a special time for the aging men to reconnect and remember their youth. As Tom Brokaw said of the WWII veterans in his book “The Greatest Generation,” these men did not brag about their service. They quietly spoke of events but always expressed that they were just doing their job, doing what they had been trained to do, doing what they had to do. It was touching to watch them talk, and laugh and reminisce about those times.
In their young, formative years these men forged a bond like no other – the bond of combat. And they became our heroes. By doing their jobs, they enabled us, their children and grandchildren, to live the lives in a free, democratic society. They freed the world from the tyranny and dictatorship that threatened to engulf the globe. We so often forget that in 1943 when these young men first came together, the Allies were losing the war and it looked like it would take many years of fighting to defeat Germany and Japan. They had a big job ahead of them but they knew they would win – eventually. That faith in themselves, in this country, was remarkable. And we saw that same positive attitude in the remaining veterans that we met in Gatlinburg.
Too soon it was time to leave. Each of us going back to our own part of American. I hope we can stay in touch with these wonderful people, each fascinating in their own way. As we drove down out of the mountains and south toward Florida, we agreed that it had been a wonderful experience, a chance to touch the past, to talk with those who had lived it. Too soon they will all be gone, but they will never be forgotten.
The story of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion would not be complete without telling the story of two Tennessee boys and a wartime love story.
My father-in-law, Paul, had asthma as a small child so he was still in high school when he was drafted into the Army at age 19. His parents tried to get their only child out of the Army but their efforts only caused problems during his early months in the service. While training in Kansas, Paul made friends with another Tennessee boy, Luther, who grew up in a small town a few miles south of Camp Campbell, Ky.
When the 276th received orders for retraining on the M-7 to become a mobile artillery unit, Luther must have been delighted to be stationed so close to home. With a car at his disposal Luther would take his friend to his home town on weekends where they spent time with the local girls. They probably met other girls in Clarksville, the town closest to their camp. Months passed and both boys knew they would soon receive orders for overseas. One weekend when Luther had a date with a girl who lived near Clarksville, he asked her to find a date for his friend, Paul.
While in school, Earlene went with a boy who lived near her family’s farm. He joined the Army after the war broke out and became a gunner on a B-17 bomber. His plane went down during training and he was killed sometime in 1943.
Earlene’s father rented out their farm and went to Detroit to work in the defense industry. While waiting for him to send for them, Earlene, her mother and sister lived with her grandmother near Clarksville. Earlene’s grandmother had remarried years before and her youngest daughter was only a little older than Earlene. This “aunt” agreed to find a date for Luther’s friend, and that’s how Earlene and Paul met.
It must have been love at first sight because Paul came back to see Earlene several times in the next two weeks. Confined to camp awaiting orders to ship out, Paul and Luther sneaked out of camp so Paul could go see his girl. That night Paul asked Earlene to marry him. She hesitated at first. She knew what could happen. But he told her that he knew she wouldn’t be there when he came back. Somehow he convinced her. Luther drove them to Hopkinsville, Ky., where they were married. It was June 20th, 1944, and they had known each other for twelve days.
The couple agreed to keep their marriage a secret from their parents, at least for a while. The 276th shipped out three days later, on June 23rd, for the war in Europe.
Months later, but before going to Detroit, Earlene told her mother about her marriage. Upset, her mother wrote to her father. Both parents were not happy about the marriage, but they accepted it. Paul wrote to his parents and his unexpected marriage must have shocked them.
Earlene tells of meeting her in-laws for the first time. She took a bus to West Tennessee where Paul’s parents lived. The bus driver misplaced her suitcase so when she arrived in Selmer, Tennessee, she had nothing but the clothes she wore. This made an already anxious situation worse. Paul’s parents recognized her in the bus station. They drove the only vehicle they owned, a logging truck. The three of them rode in the cab for the long drive to their house. Earlene said it was so far back in the sticks that she began to wonder what she had gotten herself into.
Paul’s grandmother waited at the house. When the old woman met Earlene she exclaimed “I knew Paul wouldn’t marry trash.” From that Earlene knew what her in-law’s had expected.
The young couple stayed in touch through letters. Earlene sent Paul a picture that she had made especially for him.
Both Paul and Luther survived the war in Europe. Before leaving Germany they were told they would be shipped to the United States, then would be reassigned for shipment to the Pacific Theater. When the men reached the states, in July 1945, they received a 30 day furlough to visit their families. Paul found his bride on her father’s farm and met her family for the first time.
Paul did not intend to go back to combat. He’d been through too much, seen too much. He vowed he would get lost in the swamp where no one could find him. Unfortunately his father was ill so Paul had to help his mother. He couldn’t hide. Instead, he gained permission to extend his leave. Before he had to report back, the Japanese surrendered.
Paul reported to Ft. Bragg, N. C. and was discharged in November, 1945. Paul and Earlene’s marriage lasted until his death in 1999. They raised five children. Paul’s friend Luther lived nearby. When Luther visited his stories revealed much of what Paul’s children knew of their father’s service because he rarely talked about it.
There were many of these love stories during World War II. Young men and women traveled all over the country and overseas. Workers left their homes for defense plants. The couples met in many ways and places – on the military bases, in USO canteens, through friends, while in transit, etc. Soldiers even developed serious relationships with girls they met overseas where they were stationed or fighting. War brought an urgency to their courtships. Many were short and some of the relationships did not survive after the war. What’s amazing is how many of these marriages not only survived but flourished. They are wonderful stories and I never tire hearing them.
When we last left our hero’s of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, it was February, 1945, and they had just crossed into Germany from Luxembourg.
I’m a map person. Several years ago I purchased a coffee-table book “US Army Atlas of the European Theater in World War II.” Researching this post I scoured the maps for locations mentioned in the 276th Battalion history and that exercise put some of the distances in perspective. In a straight line from Bastogne, Luxembourg, to Bitburg, Germany, it’s about 30 miles through hilly, heavily wooded terrain with crooked, narrow roads. The defenses of the Siegfried line ran along the German border between the two points. Bitter cold winter weather hindered progress as the Germans retreated behind their “west wall” line of defense. Can you imagine life for the men? Living outdoors, eating when they could, following orders, doing their jobs, fearing the next attack and struggling to survive. The 276th was a few miles southeast of Bastogne at the beginning of January. They did not reach Bitburg until Feb. 28, 1945. Eight long weeks.
From the southern shoulder of the “bulge” in the line, due to the German counter-offensive later known as the Battle of the Bulge, the 276th moved toward the northeast in support of the 80th Infantry Division. On Feb. 7, 1945, the Battalion fired 1,702 rounds in preparation for the 80th attack across the Our River into Germany and against the Siegfried Line. The 276th fired a total of 2,610 rounds that day, more than 325 rounds per gun. After that firing continued at a rate of approximately 1,000 rounds per day as they continued to pound the German fortifications. On Feb. 19-20 the 276th again fired heavily in preparation for another attack by the 80th Division. This time the 276th AFA Battalion crossed the Sauer river into Germany near Cruchten.
During these attacks the 276th for the first time fired a mixture of rounds that consisted of 40% fuze delay, 50% fuze quick and 10% white phosphorus, a chemical that burned through anything and could not be extinguished with water. The combination proved effective against enemy troops and would be used again.
In early March they moved rapidly northward to Koblenz on the Rhine. My father-in-law told of sitting on high ground overlooking the Rhine river and seeing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, north of Koblenz. Although not mentioned in the history, he remembered seeing the bridge and firing across the river to protect the crossing troops. Since it was the only bridge left intact across the Rhine, it had to be the bridge at Remagen. For years he had a print of the bridge hanging in his room.
His buddy in the 276th told a funny story on him years later. While near the Rhine, a young man, drunk on liberated cognac, sat astride the gun barrel when German artillery began firing rockets on their position. He couldn’t get down so he rode out the barrage on the tube. Shells landed so close that the water cans hanging on the gun were shot off, but he didn’t get a scratch. According to my husband, his father didn’t want the story told and tried his best to stop his buddy from telling it in front of his sons.
At Koblenz the north-east flowing Moselle joins the Rhine. On March 15 the 276th crossed the Moselle with elements of the 4th Armored Division. They continued toward the south-east against stubborn resistance from rear-guard troops and defiant towns. Although the men rarely knew what was going on overall in the war, they knew moving forward meant they were winning and that was always good news.
While the 4th Armored Division diverted south to take Worms, the 276th remained at Oppenheim to support a bridgehead operation by the 5th Division. They crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge above Oppenheim on March 24, then reverted back to supporting the 4th Armored Division on their swift advance east to encircle the city of Frankfort. Within days they advanced across northern Bavaria, heading northeast. On April 3 they ended a long road march near the city of Gotha with enemy aircraft and artillery firing on their advance. After an ultimatum Gotha surrendered the next day and the 276th moved south on the road to Ohrdruf.
On April 5th the battalion fired on the city of Ohrdruf against stubborn resistance by the Germans. When the enemy surrendered, the Americans learned why they defended it so stubbornly. Ohrdruf was a sub-camp of Buchenwald – the concentration camp and ‘death factory’ – and the first such camp discovered by the Americans. Although my father-in-law never spoke of it directly, Patton visited the camp and ordered that as many of his men as possible tour the camp as witnesses to the atrocities committed there. More than likely the men of the 276th saw the camp at Ohrdruf and, possibly Buchenwald, since they were in the area when it was discovered. The only time I ever heard my father-in-law say anything about the concentration camps was in the 1990’s when a TV program mentioned that there were people claiming the holocaust never happened. He adamantly insisted that it did happen, but he would say no more.
Reassigned to the 11th Armored Division, the 276th drove southeast from near Suhl to near Kulmbach by April 12, battling not only Germans but also heavy rains. As part of Task Force Hearn another road march began near Grafenwohr, “site of the largest barracks and training area in central Germany,” and within a week they traveled 150 miles to Grafenau. Their objective was Linz, Austria on the Danube. The German army offered little resistance during this advance.
But, on April 30, the enemy made a stand at Wegscheld. After an all day assault, including heavy fire from the 276th, the 11th Armored Division occupied the demolished town. The battalion fired approximately 1,600 rounds that day, including a 90 round white phosphorous concentration. May 1st the 276 crossed into Austria with the 11th.
On May 2, the 276th received orders to return to supporting the 4th Armored Division near Lalling, Germany. They marched back to the northwest, then on May 3 moved to a ‘rest’ bivouac area near Saldenberg for three days. On the 5th they joined the 4th Armored Division moving east and north into Czechoslovakia toward the city of Strakonice. The Czech’s lined the roads welcoming their liberators. They were still moving toward Prague when they received word that the German armed forces had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.
Surrendering German troops streamed through the battalion’s camp toward designated assembly areas. On May 10 the 276th motored to Bogen, Germany, where they became part of the military government and oversaw the flow of prisoners into fenced areas for processing to prisoner of war camps.
The joy and relief of victory in Europe was short-lived for the 276th. On May 13 they learned they would be deployed within 30 days to the Pacific Theater, traveling through the United States. On May 16 they participated in a ‘ceremony shoot’ for a group of Russian generals. On June 2 they received orders to move out. The heavy vehicle column traveled across Germany and France by train while the light motor column traveled by road meeting up at Camp Lucky Strike, near Le Havre, France. Here, due to the points system for discharge, members of the battalion with more than 85 points were transferred to the 341st FA Battalion of the 89th Infantry for transport home and discharge.
The remainder of the 276th embarked for the US from Le Havre, France, on July 2, 1945. It was one year to the day from their departure from New York. By July 11 all had departed Camp Shanks, NY, for home on furloughs. Thankfully, by the time they were to reassemble for redeployment training, the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over.