78th Infantry Division

Ellis Adams – Another Update …

A little more digging (and the message boards at the 78th Division Veteran’s Association) turned up something brilliant …

“The story of the 310th infantry regiment, 78th infantry division in the war against Germany, 1942-1945” was published in Germany in 1946 as a regimental history.

The story of the 310th infantry regiment, 78th infantry division in the war against Germany, 1942-1945

The story of the 310th infantry regiment, 78th
infantry division in the war against Germany,
1942-1945

I downloaded it (via the Bangor Community Digital Commons website) and searched for Ellis to confirm that a) an Ellis Adams was part of 310th, and b) that it was ‘my’ Ellis Adams …

Ellis H Adams, Company A Since October 1944

Ellis H Adams, Company A Since October 1944

There, listed under the members of Company A was ‘Adams, Ellis H.’ The address listed matches that of the census and discharge papers, and his mother was still living there in 1950.

So that tells me that from October 1944 until his discharge in March 1945 he was definitely with 310th – and I now know the areas and battles that he was involved with (more on that in a moment).

I was still left with the question regarding his wounding in battle of July 1944 if 310th didn’t ship out to Europe until October 1944. Then I read two particular paragraphs that might explain this:

Between the months of August 1942 and March 1943, the Division functioned in the capacity of a replacement pool. From everywhere, thousands of enlisted men came to the Division. Some came from various Infantry Replacement Training Centers, some from service units, all were after further training before going overseas. These men usually arrived with some six to thirteen weeks’ training. The 78th Division would try diligently to give them an additional three to six weeks’ training before their number came up for overseas duty. By March 1943, the Division had trained and processed more than 52,000 soldiers for combat duty with other units. … A New Deal for the Division and the 310th Regiment started in March, 1943. Fresh from Reception Centers came strong, young men, mainly in the 18 to 20 year age bracket. They were excellent recruits to add to our experienced cadre.

Then from January to March 1944 came the Tennessee Maneuvers, but:

Then it happened! The regiment pulled into Camp Pickett, Virginia, on April 1st, supposedly all set for combat duty. Two weeks later all the Privates and Privates First Class left the regiment and were on their way to Ports of Embarkation as replacements. Our “team” was broken up. Most of them participated in D-Day landings in France. The drain on the junior officer personnel was equally heavy. Everyone said, “the 78th Division will never go overseas.” It was a bitter pill to swallow.

So this seems to suggest that upon his entry into active service, aged 19, he could well have been with a different regiment (or even with the 310th), sent off to France and sustained his battle wound there and then rejoin (or be transferred to) the 310th in October 1944.

The book does, however, confirm the date that 310th left England for France:

At 0300 November 21, the 310th went by rail to Southampton, and at dawn boarded HMS Llangibby Castle.

HMS Llangibby Castle

HMS Llangibby Castle

Its still a bit of a fly in the ointment of how Ellis could have left Southampton two days before marrying Eva in Devizes … There’s nothing in the book saying that there was a second ship carrying further troops. Again, perhaps in his service record it may have said something about his marriage.

Route of 310th through France and Belgium

Route of 310th through France and Belgium

Although we know that he was in Devizes on 23 November to get married, the book (as I mentioned up there) details what else he would’ve done in the war.

He was part of Company A, which made up a third of 1st Battalion. Upon arrival in Genoels-Elderen, Belgium, they were in the Reserve of the US Ninth Army, but were then transferred to the US First Army and committed to action in December 1944. This was in the Roer Valley and involved breaching the Siegfried Line (a defence system stretching more than 630 km (390 mi) with more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps that stretched from the Netherlands border to Switzerland) and capturing a series of dams near Lammersdorf/Schmidt in Germany.

The early morning of the 13th was extremely cold, and the snow which had fallen intermittently for three days, was glazed and deceivingly deep. The troops had spent a miserable night. They were thoroughly wet and chilled by the cold sweat of anticipation. Every man was tense and excited; most were afraid, yet unwilling to show it. There were tears, unnatural laughter, and prayer. Weapons were checked and rechecked automatically. Feet were already half frozen, (there were never enough overshoes or arctics to go around) and fingers were brittle. It was only two months later that infantry troops were
supplied with winterized equipment or white camouflaged suits to blend with the snow. …

Looking east from Lammersdorf, the panorama was beautiful to the eyes; rolling fields with hedgerows to mark property lines, or broken here and there by an occasional farmhouse, cut by ravines and sprinkled by sudden steep pine covered hills. It was all beautiful for the painter’s brush, yet ugly for offensive fighting. This was no time for the aesthetic, not when wooded hill crests made natural strongpoints for the enemy and provided excellent observation of every normal approach.

The Battle of the Bulge (aka Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein [“Operation Watch on the Rhine”], the Bataille des Ardennes [“Battle of the Ardennes”] or the Ardennes Counteroffensive) in December 1944/January 1945 delayed the completion of that initial objective, and it wasn’t to be complete until 08 February. However, to delay the Allied troops in crossing the Roer river, the Germans blew two of the major damn spillways “just right, so as to get the maximum delay from high water”.

In the days that followed:

…[m]en were rotated to the rear for baths, clean clothes and recreation, and limited quotas were sent on pass to Engiand, Paris, Brussels, Huy, Liege and the Division Rest Center at Rottgen. … Men got haircuts too, and learned that sweaters were not an outer garment.

On March 1st the 1st Battalion started its drive to the Rhine and was attached to Combat-Command “B” of the 9th Armored Division.

map

 

The journey, and hardships overcome, from the Roer to the Rhine earned Company A a Presidential Citation:

for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy during the period from 2 March 1945 to 10 March 1945 … extraordinary heroism, endurance and  aggressiveness demonstrated by the First Battalion, 310th Infantry Regiment in accomplishing difficult and important missions during this period are in keeping with the highest military traditions.

On 07 March Company A of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion captured the Ludendorff Bridge (Remagen Bridge) intact, and the First Battalion, 310th Infantry of the 78th Division was to be the first infantry battalion over the Rhine.

Their orders that night were simple: “Cross the Rhine, turn right, and attack!”

Ludendorff Bridge before the collapse

Ludendorff Bridge before the collapse

First Battalion was instrumental in creating and holding the bridgehead to the east of the Rhine. On 17 March the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen collapsed, although several other pontoon bridges had been put in place by that time, allowing the Allied troops secure crossings over the Rhine.

Ludendorff Bridge after collapse

Ludendorff Bridge after collapse

The regiment continued north until it reached the banks of the lower Sieg river. It held position here from 22 March until 05 April and was “a heavenly rest”. Or at least for the rest of the regiment.

It was at this point – on 25 March 1945 – that his service in Europe was to come to an end. There’s nothing explicit in the book that mentions anything. Given the cause of his discharge (“anxiety hysteria”) perhaps that final push north and east of the Rhine was too much for an exhausted body and mind.

By 12 May 1945 he was back on American soil and was discharged officially in Brigham City, Utah.

As well as the battle story, there are some amazing sketches …

… and frontline photography …

… as well as the sketch maps as already exampled.

The credit to those goes to:

  • T/5 Ralph Delby, a combat veteran from one of [the] line companies drew most of [the] maps and some of the sketches. Pfc. Delby was an art student as a civilian.
  • Cpl. Adam D. Baron, [a] very able and talented cartoonist. A commercial artist in civilian life, he can portray the life of a combat soldier because he has been there.

I wanted to end this post with a letter/poem Corporal Walter Slatoff wrote to his son and appeared in the New York Times:

MORE TERRIBLE THAN ALL THE WORDS

(An American Soldier writes to his Son.)

MY SON:

War is a more terrible thing than all the words of man can say; more terrible than a man’s mind can comprehend.

It is the corpse of a friend; one moment ago a living human being with thoughts, hopes, and a future – just exactly like yourself – now nothing.

It is the eyes of men after battle, like muddy water, lightless.

It is cities – labor of generations lost – now dusty piles of broken stones and splintered wood – dead.

It is the total pain of a hundred million parted loved ones – some for always.

It is the impossibility of planning a future; uncertainty that mocks every hoping dream.

Remember! It is the reality of these things – not the words.

It is the sound of an exploding shell; a moment’s silence, then the searing scream “MEDIC” passed urgently from throat to throat.

It is the groans and the pain of the wounded, and the expressions on their faces.

It is the sound of new soldiers crying before battle; the louder sound of their silence afterwards.

It is the filth and itching and hunger; the endless body discomfort; the feeling like an animal; the fatigue so deep that to die would be good.

It is battle, which is confusion, fear, hate, death, misery and much more.

The reality – not the words. Remember!

It is the evil snickering knowledge that sooner or later the law of averages will catch up with each soldier, and the horrible hope that it will take the form of a wound, not maiming or death.

It is boys of 19 who might be in the schoolroom or flirting in the park; husbands who might be telling their wives of a raise – tender and happy-eyed; fathers who might be teaching their sons to throw a ball – bright with pride. It is these men, mouths and insides ugly with hate and fear, driving a bayonet into other men’s bodies.

It is “battle fatigue”, a nice name for having taken more than the brain and heart can stand, and taking refuge in a shadowy unreal world.

It is the maimed coming home; dreading pity, dreading failure, dreading life.

It is many million precious years of human lives lost; and the watching of the loss day by day, month by month, year by year, until hope is an ugly sneering thing.

Remember! Remember and multiply these things by the largest number you know. Then repeat them over and over again until they are alive and burning in your mind.

Remember! Remember what we are talking about. Not words; not soldiers; but human beings just exactly like yourself.

And when it is in your mind so strongly that you can never forget; then seek how you can best keep peace. Work at this hard with every tool of thought and love you have. Do not rest until you can say to every man who ever died for man’s happiness: “You did not die in vain.”

Cpl. WALTER J. SLATOFF

Reg. Hq. Co. 310 Inf.

Ellis Adams – An Update

I may have mentioned in my last post about my grandfather, Ellis Adams, that I had a sniff of a lead that he died in Virginia. I asked a … easier to say ‘extended cousin’ as the relationship between he and I works out at about 7th cousin 1 x removed … to order a death certificate from the Virginia Department of Health, giving the place of death as ‘Unknown’. Unfortunately the response was “more information, please …”.

As I had his date of death (August 1971) I thought I’d search on the Find A Grave website. In their own words:

Find a Grave’s mission is to find, record and present final disposition information from around the world as a virtual cemetery experience.

Memorial contributions to Find A Grave should fulfill that mission – registration of the final disposition. If the memorial contribution corresponds with only the main mission, then the memorial fulfills its purpose as part of Find A Grave’s mission.

Find a Grave memorials may contain rich content including pictures, biographies and more specific information. Members can leave remembrances via ‘virtual flowers’ on the memorials they visit, completing the virtual cemetery experience.

Find A Grave is a resource for anyone in finding the final disposition of family, friends, and ‘famous’ individuals.

It was here that I found a picture of a grave located in Emmett, Gem County, Idaho …

Ellis Adams' Gravestone, Emmett, Gem County, Idaho

Ellis Adams’ Gravestone, Emmett, Gem County, Idaho

It was also the start of a series of questions. Although the name was correct, and the date of death was correct, the date of birth is off by 9 days. “9 days, is that all?” you may ask. His date of birth of 10 April 1924 is stated on both his application for a Social Security number and on the Social Security Death Index. Error on a gravestone? Quite common, in fact, as its information provided by the purchaser and not checked against any other source. I am currently in the process of purchasing a copy of the death certificate through the US provider VitalChek. And what a pain in the ass that is as a non-US resident! And it’ll leave me $60 poorer … (that’s about £37).

As you can see, the gravestone also lists details of his military career. The listing as Private First Class matches his discharge papers, but it also states that he was part of Company A 310th Infantry Regiment. I hadn’t known any details, so this was a definite plus! I started to research the regiment …

310 Infantry Regiment

310 Infantry Regiment

I learnt that the 310th was part of the 78th Infantry Division, also known as “the Lightning Division” which alludes to the combat record of the division being likened to a “bolt of lightning”.

78th Infantry Division, Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

78th Infantry Division, Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

I then started to research the 310th and 78th in more detail and came across some other details that didn’t quite gel …

Wikipedia (that wonderfully accurate font of all knowledge) states:

…the 78th embarked for the European Theatre from the New York POE on 14 October 1944, whereupon they sailed for England. They arrived on 26 October 1944, and after further training crossed to France on 22 November 1944.

However, if we compare this with dates from Ellis’ life we see that something isn’t quite right.

  • Ellis’ discharge papers state that he entered service outside of the United States in May 1944 and was wounded in battle in July 1944.
  • The date of Ellis and Eva’s marriage is 23 November 1944. Did Ellis go later? Was he held back as he was still recovering from being wounded in July 1944? Questions only his service record would have answered!
  • Given my mother’s birth date, Eva was a month pregnant at the time of her marriage. Using the October arrival date, this gives Ellis a very short window of opportunity to get the ball rolling!

Of course, it may be possible that Ellis started off in a different regiment and was subsequently transferred to the 78th at a later date. The 78th did take part in  the Western Allied invasion of Germany (Central Europe Campaign) and were involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and also the taking of the Remagen Bridge (later made into a film starring George Segal and Napoleon Solo Robert Vaughn).

Ellis was discharged in March 1945, so would not have taken place in the battle of encirclement known as The Ruhr Pocket in May 1945.

78th Infantry Division. On parade in Berlin, 8 May 1946

78th Infantry Division. On parade in Berlin, 8 May 1946

Perhaps once I receive a copy of the death certificate it may lead to some new information regarding a new family in Idaho. In the meantime I have contacted the Idaho State Archives and the offices of the local newspaper, the Emmett Messenger-Index, to see if they hold an obituary for him (assuming that he died in the same town that he was buried). So I guess its another waiting game to see what the Gem State (or Potato State, depending on what you prefer) holds!