Some of my favorite WW II films are set in the United States or on the “home-front.” These helped inspire me to write stories set on the “home front” as well as overseas. On the “home-front” almost everyone contributed to the war effort so there are many, many stories to be told. Here are my top five favorites in reverse order.
5. Saboteur (1942)
This Alfred Hitchcock thriller is a wartime, “home-front” movie as well as a romance. In the film Robert Cummings tries to clear his name by chasing down an arsonist only to become entangled with a spy ring trying to blow up Hoover Dam. Priscilla Lane and her uncle help him, and she becomes caught up in the action. Cummings suspects Norman Lloyd as the German spy. In New York the German sympathizers attempt to destroy a new battleship and are foiled by Cummings and Lane. They chase the spies through Radio City Music Hall. The climactic scene at the top of the Statue of Liberty is incredible, especially considering the technology of the time. Of course, Cummings and Lane get together in the end.
4. The Clock (1945)
This movie is definitely a wartime love story. Judy Garland accidently trips over Robert Walker’s foot in Pennsylvania Station. He’s on 48 hours leave before he has to ship out. He asks her out that evening, and they agree to meet under the Clock at the Astor Hotel. After dinner they end up spending the night delivering milk then have breakfast with the milkman and his wife. Garland and Walker become separated in a crowded subway and desperately try to find each other without knowing last names. Back at the train station they reunite and Walker asks Garland to marry him. They spend his last day of leave fighting red tape to get married before he leaves. Then they must say good-bye until he returns from the war. (Tear-jerker time)
3. The Human Comedy (1943)
Mickey Rooney stars as a teenager in a small town who delivers telegrams for Western Union. The poignant drama depicts the human side of war as Mickey delivers the news of a loved one lost in battle, while his own brother is serving overseas. A romance between his boss and a local girl stalls when he joins the military and leaves for service. Over time the whole town feels the effects of the war. This is my favorite Mickey Rooney movie.
2. Since You Went Away (1944)
Claudette Colbert’s husband leaves wife and daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) to fight the war. Life quickly changes – from taking in a boarder to losing their cook to war work to Jones working in a hospital full of wounded soldiers to Jones falling for a soldier to Colbert learning to weld. The family evolves and grows and learns to cope with all the changes brought on by the war. I love the depiction of strong women on the “home-front” not only keeping life going but also contributing to the war effort.
1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Absolutely my favorite WWII movie. Three men, a soldier (Frederic March) a sailor (Harold Russell) and an airman (Dana Andrews) return home together and try to adjust to civilian life. There’s awkwardness between March, his wife (Myrna Loy), daughter (Teresa Wright) and teenage son and trouble returning to his banking job. Russell must adapt to life without his hands and decide whether to marry his long-time girl friend. Andrews struggles to find work while his war-time bride (Virginia Mayo) wants to party all the time. The film won several Oscars including Best Picture.
Some other “home-front” movies I recommend are: Miracle in the Rain, Tender Comrade and A League of Their Own.
I love old movies! Black and White or Color, doesn’t matter to me. And there are some old but excellent comedies set during WWII that I love. The Second World War is usually a very serious time yet some crazy things happened. I am certain that the men and women of the time couldn’t have survived without a little comedy. Even after the war, some situations were just too funny to ignore so film makers went to work.
I had a hard time narrowing the list to five, so….here are my top five, with a couple of ties.
#5 – Buck Privates with Abbott and Costello. Actually made in 1941 before the war started, it’s about two men who accidently enlist in the Army. They think they are signing up for prizes. If you’ve ever seen Abbott and Costello you know that their slap-stick comedy is hilarious, even now. They bumble their way through basic training including a great routine with the drill instructor. The cast includes the Andrews Sisters who sing several numbers including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” If you haven’t seen this one, it is an absolute must.
#4 (Tie) – The More The Merrier with Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn. Based on the shortage of hotel rooms and apartments in Washington, D.C., in 1943, Jean Arthur wants to rent out half of her apartment. Coburn, an older man, rents the room, then turns around and rents half of his room to a soldier waiting to ship out. Without telling Jean, of course. This is when the fun begins. At that time it was definitely improper for a young woman and a young man to share an apartment if they weren’t married so she tries to kick the soldier out. One thing leads to another hilarious situation. Definitely a Rom Com for those fans with a set up that could only have happened during the war.
#4 Tie) – To Be Or Not To Be with Jack Benny and Carol Lombard. 1942 dark comedy with Jack Benny impersonating Hitler. Can you imagine? Maybe you have to be a Jack Benny fan but his deadpan looks paired with Carol Lombard’s perfect comedic timing make this a truly funny movie. Not for everybody but I love it.
#3 – Operation Petticoat with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. As you can see from this list, I love Cary Grant comedies. Operation Petticoat (1959) is the story of a badly damaged WWII submarine that, after scrounging parts for repairs, rescues a group of nurses from a Pacific Island. Unable to get rid of the nurses and badly needing to put a primer coat of paint on the barely seaworthy vessel, they mix red and white primer and paint the submarine pink. Their intention was to cover it with gray but a Japanese air raid sends them to sea, still pink. Grant and Curtis play off each other perfectly. And the nurses add more comedy. You’ll love this colorful film as much as I do.
#2 (tie) – I was a Male War Bride with Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. The title of this 1949 comedy explains it all. A French Army Captain marries an American female soldier (WAC) while both were stationed in Germany right after the war. Trying to comply with Army regulations for transporting War Brides to the U.S. proves almost impossible but love and comedy find a way. I love this movie. Even if you don’t like black and white you need to watch this one.
#2 (Tie) – Father Goose with Cary Grant and Leslie Caron. Still another Cary Grant comedy (1964). This time he is a coast watcher on a deserted Pacific island. A hermit with a radio until he rescues a French woman and seven young school girls. Stranded on the island together until the Navy can arrange to pick them up the situation turns hilarious. The fastidious French woman and the slovenly hermit have enough friction, then throw in curious and/or frightened young girls and the laughs multiply. Another for you who like color in your Rom Com’s.
#1 – Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon with William Powell and James Cagney. My favorite of all. Madein 1955, this ensemble of characters are on a supply ship somewhere in the Pacific far from the actual fighting. Mister Roberts (Fonda) keeps requesting a transfer so he can get into the war, but the grouchy Captain (Cagney) refuses. The Captain takes out his frustration on Mister Roberts who tries his best to protect the bored and lonesome crew from their superior officer’s rants and quirks about his palm tree. Lemmon, who plays the Laundry and Morale Officer, avoids the captain at all costs while Powell the “Doc” provides solace to Roberts. After many antics Roberts gets his transfer from a grateful crew who forged the Captain’s signature. This movie has fun and drama. Bored men stuck on a ship in the pacific create their own brand of comedy.
Okay, so I cheated a little. I could have included these: Don’t Go Near the Water with Glenn Ford; No Time for Sergeants with Andy Griffith; Catch 22 with Alan Arkin; or Kelly’s Heroes with Clint Eastwood. Watch some old movies and have some fun.
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Film posters are used under the “fair use” doctrine to review the films and encourage the public to view the films.
Amid the Coronavirus pandemic I thought of the epidemics we experienced in the past, particularly a story about an epidemic in my hometown back in the 1800’s.
To see where I first heard this story I pulled out my copy of “A History of Houston County, Tennessee” by Iris Hopkins McClain. For those of you who have this book, the account begins on page 45. I will transcribe it here for those who don’t have this book.
“On July 18, 1878, the steamer John Porter left New Orleans and came up the Mississippi. The outcome of that trip had far-reaching effects in Houston County. This ship brought the dread disease yellow fever to Memphis and in turn to Houston County when some hospital cars from Memphis were side-tracked in Erin. This was a fearful illness and caused panic. The local editor was to remark that “some of our people have not acted as they should.”
The skin of yellow fever victims turned yellow, there was a great deal of hiccuping, and eventually a black vomit that had an unbearable stench. Victims usually died in a little while. Yellow fever played no favorites. Of every three persons stricken,two died and the third mysteriously recovered.
Some people fled Erin, but the plague followed them to the country. Business came to a standstill as “nobody felt like doing any business.” Arlington had been quarantined from Erin to prevent the spread of the disease to that place. Armed me were said to have stood on the outskirts of Arlington ready to shoot anyone from Erin who tried to pass through the “picket” line. The quarantine was not effective as Ed Schroibor, I. F. McMillan, Mike Kelly and Kelly’s young son became ill with the disease.
A local theory had been advanced that a limestone quarry was “sure protection” from yellow fever. The editor announced, almost with glee, that Fred Williamson, who had a lime kiln and quarry, had fallen to the disease and this disproved that theory.
The Howard Relief Train, under the direction of a Dr. Hunter, visited Erin early in October and left nurses and supplies to the stricken people.
The frosts came in mid-October and the plague soon ebbed away. By October 19 there had been seven people to die in the county of yellow fever including M. M. Stanfill, C. S. Humphreys, and Mrs. M. M. Stanfill. Mrs. G. W. Simpson was reportedly dying. Those on the convalescent list included Dick Rushing, Randal Hankins, and Walter Hagler. Those ill at the time of the first frost were Mrs. G. E. Rauscher, Ira Rauscher, Mrs. Klein, and M. F. Shelton.”
For a little background, it was not known that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes until 1900. There were no antibiotics at that time and no effective treatment. If you contracted the disease, you either lived or died.
The Howard Relief Train was organized by the Howard Association of New Orleans to follow the Louisville & Nashville Railroad with doctors and nurses to aid the stricken communities. To read more see an article in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle by Melissa Barker.
In reading this account I couldn’t help thinking of what we are going through today: the panic, the unknown, the attempts at quarantine, social distancing, fleeing the infected areas as some are doing now, closing of businesses. Today we hear some wild theories about cures or ways to protect yourself that strangely mimic the past. So over a hundred years later, we as humans react in similar ways to what they did back then.
We also reach out to help those in need. The local doctors and citizens of Erin attempted to help those people left in train cars on a siding to die. A doctor from Erin died of yellow fever, much like those health care workers of today who have contracted COVID-19 and some have died.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of my father’s passing, and also, of far less significance, the 6th anniversary of this blog. I started it with him in mind, knowing how much family history meant to him. It’s a shame he has not been here to help me fill in pieces I can’t quite pull together […]
Women’s History Month could not pass without honoring Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and so much more. There is little I can add to the volumes that have been written about her life, her contributions to the career of her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, and her later contributions to the United Nations. Instead I will tell you about some of what I admire about her.
Although her family was wealthy, she was a shy child from an unhappy home. Her mother died when she was young and her father was an alcoholic so Eleanor was raised by her grandmother. As she grew to adulthood she overcame her shyness and ventured out into society. When she married her handsome, distant cousin, Franklin, she would have been content to be a wife and mother, but her husband’s political ambitions threw her into the public arena. This public role would not have been her choice but she rose to the challenge. Even as First Lady she went beyond the expected role of managing social events and became her husband’s eyes, ears and legs. She traveled the country making speeches, listening to people in all walks of life and reporting back to the White House. It took a lot of inner strength to overcome her early life and become a force in Washington.
The quiet little girl became a savvy political figure who promoted women’s causes whenever she could. She encouraged her husband to appoint women to various positions in his administration. In a time when women reporters were not allowed in the White House news conferences, Eleanor began holding her own news conferences for women only. After Franklin’s death, President Truman appointed Eleanor as delegate to the newly formed United Nations. There she led the fight for resettlement of refugees and she is considered largely responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is still protecting human rights around the globe.
Another thing that garners my admiration is that Eleanor was a writer. Beginning during her tenure in the White House, she wrote a daily newspaper column “My Day” that was syndicated in newspapers across the country. This would have been the equivalent of writing a daily blog today. She also wrote regular columns for several magazines and had a weekly radio broadcast. After leaving Washington Eleanor wrote four autobiographies and several other books. These books are still available. I treasure my copy of the combined autobiographies.
The money she earned from this column and from her books she donated to charity. That brings me to another thing I admire about Eleanor Roosevelt. Her charity and compassion for the people. She gave her money and she gave of herself to better the lives of others.
Something that many people don’t know about Eleanor is that at the beginning of World War II when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Eleanor spoke to the American people about the attack before her husband’s famous speech to Congress. It was Sunday, December 7, 1941, and her weekly radio broadcast was scheduled to go on the air that evening. While Franklin consulted with the country’s leaders, Eleanor went on the air and talked to the people in her kind and compassionate style. She could relate to the feelings of fear families had because she too was a mother who had four sons of the age for military service. Two of her sons were already in the military. She knew what was coming and she knew the people needed to hear a message of hope and courage so that is what she gave them. Listen to her words in the attached You Tube recording. How could you not admire a woman like that.
With this post I will finish my series of posts on the exploits of the 30th Infantry Division during World War II. I have been distracted by other events in my life (like selling my first novel). Nevertheless, I need to bring their story to a conclusion and, in doing so, tell of some interesting occurrences during the last days of the war.
After crossing the Rhine River on March 24, 1945, the 30th pushed into the heart of Germany. By the 28th, the 8th Armored Division passed through their lines and the mission of the 30th was to follow behind and mop up. After Dorsten fell on March 29, XIX Corps took command of the 30th. By April 1, Old Hickory was reassigned to following the 2nd Armored Division on a long road march eastward towards Berlin. Before them lay the Teutoberger Wald, the place where the Germanic tribal chief, Hermann, defeated the Roman legions of Varus in 9 AD. The 2nd Armored Division left the Autobahn, which veered north at this point, and crossed the long ridge of the Teutoberger Wald with the assistance of the 30th. A German Officers Training School aided regular troops to resist the Americans in the rough, steep, heavily forested terrain. They tried to take a stand on Monument Hill, the site of the Hermannsdenkmal (the statue commemorating famous battle), but Old Hickory defeated them.
On April 7th the 117th Regiment cleared Hamelin minus K Company who had been left behind to guard an Allied Prisoner of War camp. During the advance the 30th took over an assortment of installations, including airports, hospitals, training camps and German research facilities. All had to be guarded in addition to the thousands of German prisoners. Feeding the prisoners, freed POWs and slave laborers fell to the military which was unprepared to care for such numbers.
The 30th’s next objective was Brunswick. The German commander, General Veith, called for a truce to negotiate a surrender of the city, but after a meeting with General Hobbs, Commander of the 30th, the Germans refused the terms of “unconditional surrender.” The conference was only a delaying tactic to allow the German Army to escape. Fighting resumed almost immediately with the 117th Regiment attacking and the 120th moving into position to block escape from the city. By April 12 the 3rd Battalion of the 117th remained to mop up Brunswick while the remainder of the 117th along with the 120th pushed eastward toward the Elbe River. (The 119th was attached to the 2nd Armored Division at this time.)
After Brunswick fell, the 743rd Tank Battalion and infantry from the 119th Regiment were proceeding toward Magdeburg when they passed through the town of Farsleben. Lead elements found a long freight train stopped on the track. The Nazi guards attempted to flee from the Americans but were captured. The train had a full head of steam and was awaiting orders when the Americans showed up. It didn’t take long to determine that the old freight cars contained 2,500 Jewish prisoners who were being moved from Bergen-Belsen prison camp to some unknown location in the east. Problem was that the Russians were advancing from the east. The bridge over the Elbe had been destroyed and at one point the Nazis ordered the crew to drive the train into the river which would have killed all aboard. Shocked by their discovery the Americans could scarcely believe the condition of the prisoners. Frank Towers tells the story of the liberation of the train and the following events in a section of the book “The Fighting 30th Division – They Called Them Roosevelt’s SS” by Martin King, David Hilborn and Michael Collins. You can also watch and listen to Frank Tower’s account of the incident in an interview by University of Florida oral history program on YouTube.
Although the 30th Infantry Division had been issued maps through to Berlin, the order came down that they were to take Magdeburg and stop on the banks of the Elbe River. The Russians would proceed from the east and the two allies would meet at the Elbe. Many in the 30th were disappointed at not getting to push on into Berlin.
Magdeburg appeared an easy task. There were hopes of a surrender but when men went in to discuss it with the German commander they found him either unwilling or unable to surrender the city. Before the attack by both the 30th Infantry Division and the 2nd Armored Division, bombers unloaded on the already damaged city. Within twenty-four hours Magdeburg was cleared. It was April 18, 1945.
With orders to hold at the Elbe, Old Hickory’s fighting in Europe came to an end. While they waited for the Red Army and the German surrender, which finally came on May 8, 1945, the 30th occupied the area and took 7,468 prisoners. Some crossed the river to escape being captured by the Russians. All along the line the large numbers of surrendering German soldiers became a burden on the Allies to feed and house. In addition, there were thousands of freed slave laborers and liberated prisoner of war camps to deal with. Contact with the Russians came on May 4th.
Old Hickory moved south from Magdeburg to Thuringia and assumed occupation duty after the surrender. Near the end of June, the 30th learned they had been chosen for redeployment to the Pacific Theater. Their orders would carry them home, to the United States, to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Those individuals with enough points to be discharged were transferred primarily to the 76th Infantry Division with lower point individuals from the 76th moving into the 30th to replenish its ranks. These transfers due to points often explain why a veteran’s discharge papers show him in a different division from the one he fought with.
In July, the 30th moved across Europe to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Havre, France. The bulk of the division crossed the channel to England to await shipment to the U.S. That’s where they got the news that Japan had surrendered August 15, 1945. The 119th Regiment had sailed from France on August 12 so they were at sea when word came. All the men of Old Hickory let out a sigh of relief. Their fight was over. On Aug. 16th the division boarded the Queen Mary and sailed for home where the 30th Infantry Division was deactivated on November 25, 1945. The 30th Infantry Division left a glorious record of bravery, hard fighting and sacrifice in which we can all take pride.
This is the second post in a series following the 117th Regiment (originally the Tennessee National Guard) of the 30th Infantry Division through their World War II combat experiences. My primary reference has been an excellent and detailed account of the 30th entitled “Workhorse of the Western Front – The Story of the 30th Infantry Division in World War II” by Robert L. Hewitt. I have also gleaned valuable information from the Unit History of Company B, 117th Regiment and the 30th Division Old Hickory websites. As I continue to research the 30th, I find their story more and more fascinating. I hope you do, too.
The fighting around Mortain ended on August 13, 1944. With no time to rest the 117th Regiment and the entire 30th Infantry Division moved northeast encountering some enemy opposition but nothing substantial. After crossing the Seine near Mantes-Gassicourt, some 25 miles west of Paris, the 117th relieved the 79th Division. It took them two days to clear the German defenders from the high ridges on the north bank. By August 30 enemy opposition along that section of the river collapsed.
Orders came for the 30th to proceed to the French-Belgium border as part of a First Army task force commanded by Brigadier General William K. Harrison Jr. Without enough trucks to transport the entire division, the 117th remained behind in reserve while the 119th and 120th along with various support units – 125th Calvary Squadron, 30th Reconnaissance Troop, 743rd Tank Battalion, 118th Field Artillery Battalion, Company “A” 105th Engineer Battalion, and Company “A” 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion – headed for Tournai, Belgium. After beating back the German rear guard, who attempted to delay the Americans while the bulk of their army retreated, the 30th Infantry Division became the first American division to enter Belgium on September 2, 1944.
The 117th Regiment followed on September 4, camping near the famous Waterloo battlefield. Assuming the Germans would take a stand at the Meuse River, command ordered “Old Hickory” to proceed across Belgium toward the Meuse and the southern border of Holland. Lack of gasoline forced the soldiers to go on foot, slogging through the rain and mud for the over one hundred mile trek. What would have taken one day by truck became an exhausting three-day march.
On the west bank of the parallel waterways of the Meuse/Maas River and the Albert Canal, the 30th poised west and south of Maastricht, Holland, readying their attack on the most heavily fortified area along the border between Belgium and Holland. Organizing the scattered units of their retreating forces, the Germans scrambled to man the natural and man-made defenses in an effort to slow the Allies advance.
Attacking on September 10, “Old Hickory’s” regimental columns moved forward with the 117th to follow the 119th. Despite the enemy blown bridges at Vise, Belgium, south of Maastricht, the 119th managed to cross the dual waterways. At the same time the 120th took the locks on Maastricht Island, further north, and then proceeded to capture the famous Fort Eben Emael finding the Germans had deserted it. By the morning of the 12th the 117th streamed across the river at Vise. Company A of the 117th pushed northward and became the first Allied unit to cross the Belgium-Holland border and enter Holland.
Lieutenant Elwood G. Daddow, Company B, 117th Regiment, defied the danger of a German counter-attack to retrieve a dispatch case from a damaged German command car. The case contained papers and maps indicating the German plans for withdrawal and deployment of their forces along the Siegfried line as well as other pertinent data. With the extensive enemy reorganization due to their rapid retreat to the German border, this intelligence proved invaluable.
The battle for Maastricht and the surrounding area continued through September 14th with ongoing counter-attacks by the Germans. Pressing eastward “Old Hickory” pushed on toward the Siegfried Line also known by the Germans as the West Wall. Significant enemy artillery fire greeted the Americans for the first time since Normandy. On September 18 the 117th took up positions facing the Siegfried Line near Scherpenseel.
In the weeks since leaving Mortain, the fighting and the casualties had been light compared to Normandy. The demonstration of welcome in the towns liberated along the way was different as the 30th moved from France and its wild hugs and kisses to Belgium with its enthusiastic greetings to Holland with its smiles and waves. All were equally glad to be freed from the German occupation but the Americans learned quickly that the cultural differences between the countries meant there were differences in how they showed their gratitude.
In mid-September, with supplies still being brought ashore on the landing beaches of Normandy and supply lines stretched for hundreds of miles across France and Belgium, the shortage in all essentials from fuel to ammunition to food forced the Allies to halt their advance. An attack on the German homeland called for not only sufficient men and equipment but also the essential supplies to sustain the push into Germany. So the 30th settled in waiting for the Red Ball Express to deliver the much-needed materiel. They utilized the time in planning and training for the coming battle, along with a little rest and relaxation for the men, including hot showers, hot food and movies.
Although the 30th had trained in the U.S. for three and a half years before embarking for England and had trained for months in England before landing in France, the tremendous casualty rates left few men who had specialized training in weapons like the flame-throwers, bazookas, or demolition charges that would be needed in assaulting the Siegfried Line pill boxes. Command decided that everyone should be trained in all weapons and instituted an intense training program. This training allowed the replacements and the recently promoted non-com’s and officers to forge themselves into effective fighting units.
To prepare for the assault on the Siegfried Line specific information on the terrain ahead was compiled utilizing aerial photographs and reconnaissance patrols into dangerous enemy territory. With this information an elaborate sand table model was constructed in the command post. The sand table gave the men a visual representation of what lay ahead and what their specific objectives were. Men were rotated off the line to study the terrain depicted on the sand table. This detailed preparation would prove invaluable in the assault into Germany.
The 117th would breach the Siegfried Line and go on to help take Aachen, but more about that in the next post.
The 30th Infantry Division’s record in World War II garnered them the title of “Workhorse of the Western Front” by the Allies and “Roosevelt’s SS” by the German high command. Since the “SS” were Germany’s most elite troops, this reference by the enemy was high praise. The 30th’s nickname “Old Hickory,” in honor of Andrew Jackson, and their distinctive patch originated during their service in World War One where they fought with distinction. Since the division was originally created from National Guard units and since I am from Tennessee, I’ll focus my comments on the 117th Regiment made up of the Tennessee National Guard.
The unit history of Company B of the 117th Regiment, based in Athens, Tennessee, provides an interesting insight into the men who made up the Tennesseans in the 117th Regiment of “Old Hickory.” These were men who grew up together, some were related and many had fathers or uncles who had served in the 30th Division during WWI. In 1938 Company B had an authorized strength of three officers and sixty-one enlisted men. Federalization came in September 1940 and the strength increased to five officers and one hundred men. There were eight groups of brothers on Company B’s roster at that time.
Originally authorized for one year under Federal control, world unrest led to an extension. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the National Guard remained part of the U.S. Army for “the duration.” Under federalization enlistees, draftees and officers transferred from other divisions diversified “Old Hickory” with men from all over the country.
In September, 1940, the 30th Infantry began three and a half years of training, preparing for the fight everyone knew would eventually come. During this time many of the 30th’s officers and non-coms were transferred to other divisions as cadre (experienced soldiers responsible for turning new recruits into battle-ready soldiers). All of Company B’s original five officers were sent to officers training and reassigned to other divisions. In addition twenty-two of the company’s enlisted men were trained as officers and reassigned. These reassignments spread the influence of this small company of Tennessee National Guardsmen throughout the Army.
The 117th Regiment arrived in England in February, 1944, along with the rest of the 30th Infantry Division and its support units. They landed in France on Omaha Beach in mid-June. Although they came under enemy artillery fire in their assembly area, Company B’s first real combat came in early July, 1944, with the crossing of the Vire River. They fought through the hedgerows of Normandy learning the essentials of live combat that could not be taught in training. Due to casualties four different officers commanded Company B 117th Regiment in the nine day period July 7-16. On July 20th St. Lo was taken and the Allies took this opportunity to “break out” of the small area they held along the Normandy Coast.
On July 24, 1944, three divisions, the 30th, 4th and 9th, comprised “Operation Cobra.” The 30th lined up its regiments for the attack – the 119th and 120th Regiments and two battalions of the 117th, with the remainder of the 117th held in reserve. The massive bombing by the Army Air Force preceding the infantry’s attack went badly. Bombs fell short and landed on the 30th, causing 152 casualties. Command stopped the main body of bombers and delayed the attack for a day. On the next day the Army Air Force made the same disastrous mistake, bombing short and causing 662 more casualties for the 30th. That day the operation proceeded with the remnants of the 30th plus reserves attacking in their sector as planned. Despite heavy casualties from “friendly fire,” the remaining men of “Old Hickory” pulled together and did their job. Although the Germans survived the bombing with little damage, the American attack was successful. By the end of July the Allied armies had “broken out” of their limited foothold on French soil and had opened a narrow corridor along Normandy’s western coast allowing Patton’s Third Army tanks to pour into the interior.
In the three weeks from the crossing of the Vire to the capture of Tessy-sur-Vire, the 30th Infantry Division suffered the most casualties of their entire combat experience in WWII. Other more famous battles lay ahead for the division but none would be as deadly. After the fight for Tessy-sur-Vire, the 30th rested for a few days. Replacements arrived but not near enough to make up for the men who had been lost.
On August 6th, orders came for “Old Hickory” to take over 1st Division positions in and around Mortain so the 1st could pursue the Germans further south. The American lines faced the German-held territory to the east with the 30th’s position around Mortain on the southern end. Beyond Mortain small, mobile Americans units chased the Germans further inland.
A short distance to the west of the 30th’s position was Avranches and the narrow corridor supplying the Third Army and elements of the First Army pushing further into France. Unknown to the Allies, the Germans were massing forces for a counter-attack. They saw their chance to cut off Patton’s army by attacking west to the coast at Avranches, cutting the American supply lines, and thus bottling up Patton in Brittany and restricting the rest of the Allies to Normandy. The German plan could have worked – if the 30th Infantry Division hadn’t stood in their way, blocking key roads and holding the only high point in the area.
The 117th Regiment took up positions around St. Barthelemy just north of Mortain. They set up road blocks using anti-tank guns, established their headquarters, and occupied positions vacated by the 1st Division. No tanks were available. German aircraft attacked before the 117th could settle in, followed by heavy artillery bombardment. Early on August 7 the tanks of the 1st SS Adolf Hitler Division encountered the road blocks and knocked out the anti-tank guns, but not before some of their tanks and other mobile equipment were destroyed. The 1st Battalion of the 117th took the brunt of the attack. Although the Americans scattered and sought shelter, they did not withdraw. Without tank support, the infantry men used bazookas, machine guns, mortars and rifles to fight off the German onslaught and blocked one of the main routes to the coast. With limited communication with each other or their headquarters, small units fought ferociously. A squadron of British Typhoons provided the only effective air support by flying low and destroying German tanks, troops and vehicles. Read a fascinating account from the RAF at http://www.oldhickory30th.com/RAFatMortain.htm.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion of the 120th Regiment occupied Hill 314 (named for its height) which overlooked the plain east and south of Mortain. Surrounded by the Germans, artillery Forward Observers called in fire almost continuously and men fought hand-to-hand as the Germans repeatedly attempted to take the hill. Isolated and low on supplies, the Americans held out on the hill for six days without reinforcement or resupply.
The 117th stopped the German advance in the area around St. Barthelemy, an action for which they received a Presidential Citation. The 119th defended the road through Juvigny and the ridge road through Le Mesnil-Adiele which represented the deepest German penetration toward the sea, while the 120th clung to the high ground on Hill 314.
By August 12th the German offensive lost steam and they pulled back. The 30th drew a deep breath of relief as reinforcements rolled in. But there would be no rest. With only a day to regroup and receive replacements, “Old Hickory” pushed eastward chasing the withdrawing Germans.
After the war the importance of the battle surrounding Mortain became clear. Surviving German commanders cited the loss at Mortain as critical to holding France and defeating the Allies. The German counter-offensive was their last chance to stop the invasion. Afterwards their focus became the defense of their homeland.
The exciting story of the 117th Regiment 30th Infantry Division continued on until the final German surrender. In my next post I will continue to discuss the 30th and their exploits after Mortain.
We recently traveled to Savannah, Georgia, and decided to stop in at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. It is right off I-95 at Pooler, Ga. I’d seen their website but wasn’t sure what to expect. Wow! Were we impressed!
The museum is housed in a beautiful facility that includes the extensive exhibits, research facilities, gift shop and a small cafe. The fees are extremely reasonable, especially since you could spend an entire day and not see all the exhibits. For anyone interested in World War II or in the history of the U. S. Air Force, this is the place to visit.
With the research that I have done on the WWII era for my novels, I probably knew more about the 8th Air Force than most visitors. Both my husband and I have always had an avid interest in the Second World War, the politics, the fighting, the men and women who fought, and those who stayed behind on the home front. We went from exhibit to exhibit looking at the artifacts and reading the explanations starting in the rotunda where busts of important 8th AF individuals include Jimmy Stewart, the actor/movie star who piloted a B-24 on missions over Europe, and Jimmy Doolittle, who gained fame by leading the raid on Tokyo before taking command of the 8th.
The exhibits are set up so that the visitor is led through the war starting with the events that led up to the U.S. involvement. The origin of the 8th Bomber Command in January, 1942, just a month after the United States had declared war on Japan and Germany, at Hunter Field in Savannah, Ga., explains the museum’s location. In February, 1942, the 8th relocated to England where the English assigned them to air fields in southeastern England. Later, in February, 1944, the 8th was redesignated the 8th Air Force, still part of the Army Air Corp. The war would be over before the Air Force would separate from the Army as a separate entity.
In 1942 the 8th began flying missions over German occupied Europe. During the next three years the 8th would suffer more than 47,000 casualties, over 26,000 deaths and its men would be awarded numerous medals including seventeen Medals of Honor.
One of the most impressive exhibits is the B-17 bomber currently being restored named the City of Savannah. The plane takes up an enormous exhibition space. Although it is not open for visitors to climb aboard, just walking under its huge wings gave me goose-bumps. You can see the engines up close, read and watch videos of each crew members responsibilities, step inside a booth to experience the waist gunner’s position, and look in the ball turret to wonder how a grown man could fit in the small space. A B-24’s tail with its 50 caliber machine gun shows the cramped, awkward space occupied by the tail gunner.
I enjoyed sitting in the tent watching and hearing the crew briefings before they embarked on a bombing mission. The equipment, uniforms, various insignia and personal memorabilia of many of the squadrons, both bombers and fighters, were displayed in a series of glass cases. Another fascinating section was the replica of a German prison camp where 8th AF crews that had been shot down were held. Stories of evasion and escape as well as artifacts and pictures of those interred help the visitor understand the experiences of the prisoners.
I don’t want to give the impression that the 8th AF Museum only deals with World War II. Other exhibits tell of Korea, the Strategic Air Command and the conversion to jets. Additional exhibits honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the women of the WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), an art gallery and even the girl scouts.
Outside we found even more. A B-47 Stratojet sits beyond the grounds of the Memorial Garden. A replica of a British chapel provides a place for quiet reflection similar to that available to the men of the Mighty 8th while in England. Out front an F-4C Phantom Jet and a MIG 17-A stand guard.
By the end of our allotted time my husband and I both agreed that we had to come back. We felt we had only skimmed the surface of the vast amount of information available. When we return we will be armed with the names of at least two WWII 8th AF veterans who lived in our home town. We will also plan to stay overnight in one of the nearby motels so that we can spend as much time as possible in the museum.
For anyone interested in World War II, the history of the Air Force or of aviation, this is a must-see museum.
The coming of fall has me thinking about this little one-room school-house that represents an almost century-old connection between my mother’s family and my mother-in-law’s family. Back then the one-room school-house provided the only opportunity for education in rural America. Limited transportation meant the schools had to be close to where the children lived so they could walk or ride a mule or be driven in a wagon. The lone teacher taught students from first grade up to eighth, if they stayed in school that long.
The remains of Spring Valley School is in this picture. It’s located on Salmon Branch (road and creek) in Houston County, Tennessee, not too far from the Humphreys County line. What was once the Spring Valley Church stands in a similar dilapidated state across the road from the school. Then, as now, the gravel road winds its way up the valley alongside Salmon Branch. A ways beyond the school it climbs a dry ridge and then drops down into the upper White Oak Creek valley where it joins the road from Erin to McEwen.
Spring Valley School is about twelve miles from the county seat of Erin. From the late 1890’s to the early 1900’s my grandfather, W. R. Boone, was superintendent of schools in the county. He presided over a school system with from 2,200 to 2,600 students scattered over the small rural county. He also taught school part of that time, as did his sister, Lura. After his marriage in 1900 he and his first wife, Lois, had seven children. Lois died in 1911 soon after their last child, also named Lois, was born. Aunt Wildred was almost three years old when her mother died. My grandfather then married my grandmother, Elvira, who was Lois’ younger sister. By the time W. R. died in 1921 he and Elvira had four children. At the time of his death his oldest child was twenty-one, Wildred was thirteen and my mother, Elnora, was four.
W. R. Boone believed in education, as did his widow. Their children all graduated from high school and some went on to take business and secretarial courses, which was a financial strain after their father’s death. Since at that time a teacher did not have to have a college degree, the older girls took the teacher’s exam and taught school for a time. The school board appointed Wildred Boone as teacher of Spring Valley School on June 27, 1927. (Her name is mis-spelled as Mildred in the historical record.) With the school so far from town, Wildred boarded with a family who lived nearby — the Tates.
My cousin, Dawn, wrote a wonderful story on Ancestry.com about her grandmother, Wildred. I’ll share some of that story here. While staying with the Tates and teaching school, Wildred fell in love with one of their sons, Hershel Tate. On December 17, 1927, the couple eloped. They traveled to Humphreys County and married. The nearest town in Humphreys County is McEwen, but they may have traveled further on to Waverly, the county seat.
In the late 1970’s Aunt Wildred visited the home we built on a hill overlooking Jones Hollow. On the opposite side of that hill along Salmon Branch was the Tate place. Aunt Wildred told me of hiking over the hill from the Tate’s to Jones Hollow to visit George and Hattie Jones. She said she loved visiting the Jones place.
In 1927 George and Hattie’s son Samuel Paul Jones and his wife Louise lived in a little house in Jones Hollow along with their one-year-old daughter, Dorothy Earlene, my mother-in-law. George and Hattie doted on Earlene, keeping her with them as much as they could. So Wildred would certainly have met the baby girl during her tenure at Spring Valley School.
A few years later Dorothy Earlene Jones started school at Spring Valley School where she would finish the eighth grade. She then went on to attend Yellow Creek High School.
After their marriage, Hershel and Wildred moved to Akron, Ohio, and Hershel went to work in one of the rubber plants there. Samuel Paul Jones’ brother, Robert, also went to Akron to work. Hershel Tate and Robert Jones had grown up less than a mile apart. Both went to Akron and worked in rubber plants until they retired.
When we were in Tennessee last fall we drove around some of the old roads near Jones Hollow. We passed the remains of Spring Valley School and stopped so I could snap a picture and capture the place where so many memories were made. Places like this remind me of how small the world is and how our lives are intertwined. Although our families have scattered across the country places like this still tie us together. All of those mentioned from former generations are gone, except for Earlene. And her memories have faded. I hope that stories like this will keep the memories alive for our children and grandchildren.