Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

Morris Irving Grayson, 276th Armored Field Artillery

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 and Doris (on left) on double date
Irving and Doris (on left) on double date

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.

002-2-irving-and-doris-grayson-when-marriedWhile 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.doris-grayson-with-son-during-war

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.grayson-newspaper-article

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.

Posted in History, Research, WWII

June 6 – D-Day 70th Anniversary, But what else was happening?

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.Paul and Earlene Whitaker

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.New%20Guinea%20Map2[1]

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.

 

Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Part 3

The Love Story

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.

Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

The 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Part 1

Due to the interest generated by my post about the M7 Priest, I decided to write about  my father-in-law’s unit and their experiences during the war.

The Battalion

The 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was in the European Theatre of Operation combat zone for 241 days, from September 1944 until the Germans surrendered in May 1945. They fought in the Battle of Northern France, the Battle of the Rhineland, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle for Central Europe. From the first round fired at Andelot, France, (near Nancy) they moved across Europe to near Strakonice, Czechoslovakia, at the war’s end. The battalion’s eighteen guns fired approximately 90,000 rounds in combat and provided support to whoever needed their guns. Thus they supported numerous groups including the French Second Armored Division, the Third Army, the 80th Infantry Division, the 6th Armored Division, the 12th Armored Division, the 9th Armored Division, the 4th Armored Division, the 90th Infantry Division, the 5th Infantry Division, the 26th Infantry Division, and the 11th Armored Division.


The 276th started out in Kansas where they trained as a field artillery battalion. While on maneuvers in Tennessee orders came to reorganize the battalion into an armored field artillery battalion. In January, 1944, they reported to Camp Campbell, Ky., for retraining on M7 track-mounted 105 howitzers.

On June 23 they left for Camp Shanks, New York, where they boarded the SS John Ericsson, set sail on July 1, 1944, and crossed the Atlantic to England. After arriving at Liverpool, they proceeded by train to Lianmartin, Monmouthshire, South Wales, for a thirty-day readying period.

The Campaign in Lorraine

On August 20th the battalion moved to Weymouth, on the south coast, and loaded on LST’s to cross the channel. After landing on Utah Beach in Normandy, the 276th began the motor march across France. By September 10 they reached Joinville, in eastern France near Nancy, where they were assigned to the French Second Armored Division. Here they fired their first combat rounds in the war.

Over the next few days the 276th crossed the Moselle and Meurthe rivers still in support of the French. During September and into October the account of engagements and movements reads like a tour guide of villages in Lorraine. Members of the battalion were killed, wounded and a few were captured. During a short rest the men stayed in French villages where the citizens welcomed them as liberators. From late October through mid-November,  the 276th supported the 6th Armored Division defending Landroff from a strong enemy counter-attack.  Steady rain in November caused muddy roads, traffic jams, hampered operations and generally made life miserable for the men. On December 5 they fired into Germany for the first time.

In early December orders came transferring 10% of the enlisted men, or 48 men, to the infantry.  Assigned to support the 80th Infantry Division, the 276th continued to fight along the German border. But on December 20th orders changed.

Battle of the Bulge

As part of Patton’s Third Army, the 276th journeyed from near Bettviller in easternmost France to the City of Luxembourg in four days, enduring snow, extreme cold, and icy, mountainous roads. This was the famous march in the dead of winter that Third Army made to relieve the US troops surrounded at Bastogne. In Luxembourg the 276th moved further north to engage the enemy along the southern shoulder of the bulge where they spent Christmas of 1944. During this time the weather was extremely cold. They were not allowed to build fires and they had no hot food. My father-in-law said that one night he fell asleep under the gun and when awakened by gunfire he was numb and stiff. Had he not awakened, he would have frozen to death, as many did that winter.

In the movie “Patton” there is a scene where General George S. Patton ordered a chaplain to write a prayer for good weather so that they could attack. This actually happened. The successful results of this prayer impressed Patton so much that he had a copy of it sent to all the men in Third Army. My father-in-law sent it to his mother who gave it to my husband. The prayer is printed on both front and back of a small, thin piece of paper about the size of a baseball card.

In January the 276th still supported the 80th Infantry Division as they fought northward helping the 319th Inf. Regiment repel a strong counter-thrust near Nocher. The battle remained near Heiderscheid until Jan. 18.  when the battalion supported attacks on Dahl and Kaulenbach, Luxembourg. By the end of January the Allies had crushed German offensive and had pushed back the battle lines to roughly where they had been in early December.

In February the battalion hammered the Siegfried Line along the Luxembourg-German border. They established liaison with the 4th Armored Division protecting the flanks of the 80th. Targets for the thousands of rounds fired included German defensive positions with nebelwerfers (rockets called screaming meme’s), mortars, tanks, pill boxes, snipers, infantry, vehicles and gun batteries. They crossed the Sauer river near Cruchten into Germany on February 20. Five days later the 276th received orders transferring them to support of the 4th Armored Division and continued to move further into German territory.

In Part 2 I will continue to recount the experiences of the 276th in the last months of the war in Europe.

Thanks to Teresa Williams for allowing me to use her father’s photos. Her father is Morris I. Grayson, Battery “B”, 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Details were taken from the history of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion compiled by Sgt. Bruce B. Palmer.