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.
On Memorial Day we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I recently learned a little more about one of those fallen heroes – Private Joaquin Arambula who died November 29, 1944, in France, at age 19. Joaquin served in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the same Battalion as my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker.
Joaquin Arambula was brought to my attention by Darren Lanier and Tim Lanier, the grandson and son of Jacob J. Lanier who served, along with Arambula, in Battery “B” 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Pvt. Jabob J. Lanier shared stories of his close friend Joaquin whose memory remained with him for the rest of his life.
Jacob J. Lanier told his family of the events surrounding Arambula’s death and how he mourned his friend. The 276th held a position near Freybouse, France, on November 23, 1944, Thanksgiving Day. The Germans began shelling their position and their Lieutenant called to Lanier and Arambula to go up to the road and stop an approaching Army mail truck before it came under fire. Both men ran toward the road. Pvt. Arambula was ahead of Lanier as they ran through some nearby woods when a German artillery shell came in and hit close to the two men, mortally wounding Arambula. He was evacuated to a field hospital where he died a few days later.
Jacob Lanier felt both guilt for having survived the blast and sorrow for the loss of his friend. In later years, Lanier often thought how close he came to dying that day. The fact that he didn’t run as fast as his buddy not only saved his life but also enabled him to return from the war and have a family, something his friend Joaquin didn’t get to do.
Joaquin Arambula, the son of Frank Arambula, was from Enid, Oklahoma. Since Joaquin could not see very well without his glasses, his family was upset when he was drafted. After training, Pvt. Arambula landed on Utah Beach on August 25, 1944, with the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. They journeyed across France and joined the fight in Eastern France with Patton’s Third Army. The 276th fought valiantly that fall in several engagements, including repulsing the German counter-attack at Landroff, before Pvt. Arambula’s tragic death.
Of the three Arambula brothers who served in World War II, only Joe Arambula came home after serving in Europe where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Their other brother, John M. Arambula, died November 16, 1943, age 20, while serving in the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Italy.
Pvt. Joaquin Arambula is buried near Saint-Avold, France, in the Lorraine American Cemetery. His brother John is buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy (Find-a-grave). To locate service members buried overseas or missing you can search on the American Battle Monuments Commission website.
So it is with sadness that we remember these young lives cut short by war. We honor their memory and their sacrifice. And we honor the sacrifice of their family, who lost so much so that we could have the freedom we enjoy today.
Many thanks to Darren Lanier for tracking down the family of Joaquin Arambula and to Joaquin’s family for sharing their pictures and their story.
My World War II romance novel, Kitty’s War, is available on Amazon, ITunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and The Wild Rose Press.
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.
Many of us associate December and WWII with the famous Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. I was wondering what was going on the year before, in December 1943. We had been at war for two years at that point. Where were the people and units I’ve written about with Christmas 1943 approaching?
On December 19, 1943, my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker, and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion boarded a special train at Fort Riley, Kansas, for the Tennessee Maneuver area in Middle Tennessee east of Nashville. They had been at Fort Riley for battalion tests after training in Camp Phillips, Kansas. They arrived at Gallatin, Tennessee and from there they moved to a bivouac area in a meadow near Hickman, Tennessee, where, in the pouring rain and mud, they celebrated Christmas 1943.
My Dad, Vernon R. Knight, arrived at Moore General Hospital near Asheville, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve. This was his first hospital post after completing training in rehabilitation therapy at Camp Grant, Illinois. From a letter to my mother dated December 24, 1943, (his birthday), he wrote of the loneliness and disappointment he felt at being away from home for Christmas.
My Uncle D. T. ( Boots) Knight was in Camp Roberts, California, where the 947th Field Artillery Battalion had been stationed since December, 1941. The battalion had originally been part of the National Guard activated in late 1940. After two years in California they spent Christmas 1943 preparing to ship out. On December 28, 1943, the 947th Field Artillery Battalion moved to Camp Stoneman to prepare for departure, and then, on January 9, 1944, the battalion sailed from San Francisco on the USAT Seaflasher, destination New Guinea.
My Dad’s cousin, Herman Connell, was working in Bowling Green, Kentucky, after dropping out of high school. No doubt he traveled by train down the line to his hometown of Paris, Tennessee, and spent Christmas 1943 with his family. He would turn eighteen the following spring and join the Army. In March, 1945, he was killed in Germany.
At Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Frank Towers had reported to the 30th Infantry Division. He and his bride, Mary, celebrated Christmas in Indiana as the division prepared for shipment overseas. Through final training at Camp Atterbury, the division coalesced into a fighting unit before moving to Camp Myles Standish near Boston in February, 1944. After a short stay in Boston, the division sailed for England.
Christmas 1943 was the second, and in some cases the third, Christmas away from home for many of our military after the United States entered the war in December 1941. Those I’ve written about here were finishing training and would soon depart for battlefields overseas. Some would be home for Christmas 1945, but some would not.
We should all remember those serving in the military all around the world this Christmas. Like their counterparts in World War II, they are lonely and missing their families back home during this holiday season. Pray for their safe return so they can spend future Christmas’s at home with their families.
What was going on in the European Theater of Operations during the first part of October, 1944? Sometimes it’s interesting to look at what was happening in different places at the same time. In early October the European front stretched from the Netherlands/Belgian/German border in the north to the French/German border near Metz further south.
On October 2 the 30th Infantry Division launched a full-scale attack on the Siegfried Line east of Maastricht, The Netherlands. The Germans had retreated from France, Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands to make a stand at the long string of reinforced pillboxes and tank traps along their western border. Edward Arn, in his book “Arn’s War,” describes the grisly death of his commander, Captain Melvin Riesch, that day during the attack on Rimburg Castle which caused Arn’s elevation to commander of Fox Company, 119th Infantry Regiment. Fox Company, along with the rest of the 30th Infantry division would go on to attack the German City of Aachen from the north flanked by the 29th Division and the 2nd Armored Division. The 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions attacked Aachen from the south. The city surrendered on October 16 , 1944 and was the first major German city to fall to the Allies.
On October 3rd, Lieutenant Charles McDonald crossed the German border and joined his new command, Company I of the 23rd Infantry Division in the Schnee-Eifel forest east of St. Vith, Belgium. McDonald wrote of his baptism by fire during the next few weeks in his classic memoir “Company Commander.” His account of the desperate fighting along that portion of the Siegfried line and his shockingly rapid introduction to life in combat as a Company Commander provides such a vivid picture that you feel you are there with him.
From September 10 through October 15, 1944, the 276th Armored Field Artillery, which included my father-in-law, was supporting the 2nd “Free” French Armored Division. They took positions near the Foret du Parroy, east of Nancy, France, on September 23 and remained in that position until October 15 providing supporting fire for the French Division as well as the nearby 79th Infantry Division. The 4th Armored Division was also in this area near Nancy. All were part of General George Patton’s command.
Back behind the lines, PFC Mollie Weinstein, had settled into her quarters in a hotel in newly-liberated Paris. The WAC provided clerical support for the Army and in her free time explored the famous city. Her memoir, “Mollie’s War,” includes letters she wrote home describing her experiences including meeting GI’s who’d landed on D-Day at a USO provided entertainment event and the plight of civilians in liberated Paris. Although news reports predicted the war would be over by Christmas, Mollie joked that she wouldn’t be home until 1946. The WAC’s instincts were right. It was November, 1945, before Mollie was shipped back to the states.
In early October,1944, the news from Europe sounded good to the folks back home. Paris and most of France had been liberated. The Siegfried Line had been breached and the city of Aachen taken. Although the port of Antwerp had fallen to the Allies in September, fortifications along the estuary leading to the sea blocked the port until November. Supplies were still being unloaded on the Normandy beaches and trucked across France by the Red Ball Express. Shortages slowed the Allies advance as the Germans fought to defend their borders. The war in Europe would go on for another seven months.
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.