276th Inf: Accounts: John Howell
A View from Headquarters

John Howell, Hqs/276th, sent this account.

Initial training took place in the beautiful Willamette River Valley at Camp Adair, Oregon. Training here lasted into the next summer. I was assigned to the Regimental Headquarters Company in the Wire Section of the Communications Platoon. We learned how to install field wire for all environmental conditions. This training was in addition to the regular Infantry Basic Training.

In the late summer of 1944 we were sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, near Rolla, to finish off our training, where we fought the battle of the Big Piney river, were loaded on trains again and sent to Boston, Mass. via the old south and the east coast. Stopped off at a town outside Boston, Taunton, Camp Miles Standish, MA for a few more days of training and then loaded on a converted liner. It was the USS America, I believe, renamed West Point. The cabins had been stripped out and refitted with large barrack type rooms and hammocks. Seven days on the Atlantic, zig-zagging all the way across and through the Straights of Gibralter to Marseilles, France.

The Regiment stayed about a week on a bald hill outside the city. Here was our first experience with aircraft strafing us. We called him "bed check Charley". We were supposed to be given 6 weeks of rear area training but the Bulge activity stopped that. Most of the troops were loaded on the European narrow gage 40 & 8 box cars (40 men or 8 horses) and sent up the Rhone River valley. I was sent in a jeep (the one that my wire crew was assigned) up the same general route. I remember one night at an air field, another at Dijon, (memory blanked out) . Do remember Christmas dinner served one of those nights. I donít know how the cooks were able to prepare such a good meal under the conditions involved. It may be that we were just hungry.

Next remember being in a small town up in a place near the Rhine where our artillery was tossing 240 MM shells at German Pillboxes across the Rhine. Was there through New Year's and went searching for something to celebrate with. Two of us went up toward the front and stopped at homes looking for something to drink. One family invited us in. They didn't want to give us a bottle but they gave us a small (looked like a thimble) glass of Schnapps. Good and powerful stuff!!

Early in January, we found that we were on our way to Wingen. The first night out we bivouacked in a town named Hagenau. Again the memory failed with this exception. I was one of the crew put on tank guard. The Captain ( I donít remember whether or not Captain Barrett was still a Lieutenant so I give him the benefit of the doubt) gave me a Bazooka and a couple of rounds for it. I do remember his order. "Let the first tank go through, then plug the second one with a round in its side and good luck"! Luck was with us or against us, that night, whatever, no need to plug.

Next day, I was sent with the Advance Party to a small town named Wingen to set up communications for our Regimental Headquarters, 276th Infantry. When we got to Wingen, we found that one element of the 45th Div. had set up one of their Regt. Hq's. near a glass factory. The Glass Factory was subsequently reduced to rubble. The Captain and I went on looking for places to set up. We found that the families had left rather hastily. No one answered the door-bell ringers so I just shot the lock off with the new Thompson Sub Machine gun the Captain provided our Crew Chiefs. (First and only time I shot it). The villagers, in their haste, left hot food on their stoves and families were gone. Then I went in, found the hot food, went up stairs, during which time the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.. The Captain called, I went and we left that town (Wingen) and went about 3 or 4 miles or so west to another small village to the west, and set up there.( Must have been Zittersheim).

The next item of business was to find a location for the switchboard, set it up, and string wire to where the Capt. put the various offices, Col., S1, S2, S3, S4, etc. Then after the Battalions had set up their Hq's., we set out to string wire to them. We laid wire most of the night and were up the rest of it repairing what we thought was broken wire, and turned out that the Germans had cut them every time we got them repaired. This turned out to be one of the battles on the southern end of the Bulge, "Wingen." All the Regimental wire crews were busy day and night stringing and repairing wire throughout all the Wingen battle.

So many things happened and I don't recall the exact sequence of events but I would like to tell a small not so funny story. We had strung a line through a small town, out the other side and up around a curving hill. Had a call that the line had gone dead. My crew and I went to see what the trouble was. The wire had been cut into shreds, so we repaired it. Remember, this was in the midst of the worst winter that Germany had experience in many years. (No need to remind you, is there?) About 15 min. later, a tank (ours) came by, started up the hill, slid off and cut the wire up again! So, we repaired it again. Ten minutes later, 5 or 10 more tanks tried to get up the hill, slid off the road and into the brick fence we had put the wire on top of, cut it up again along with the brick wall! We ended up carrying by hand, enough wire to lay it about 500 yards away from the road. Success! Such was the life of an infantry wireman. Things are coming back...I believe this was in one of the small towns before Hill 403 activity.

From there we were sent to take a small town, Forbach, which is only a short distance from Saarbrucken, which we eventually took. We spent a lot of time here in an apparent holding action. I went out to the front with the I & R Squad leader to see where he had an observation post on the forward side of a hill overlooking the Germans. I couldn't see any one, friend or foe in either direction. He said that we were 500 yards in front of what he called the "Outpost Line of Resistance". He had to have a telephone and radio there. No wonder I couldn't see anyone. 

In this general area, there was a cemetery with it's entrance on the north side, facing Forbach. A little farther up this road was a T junction with another main road. One of my men and I were laying wire to splice into another at this junction. My jeep wire reel ran out of wire some 30 to 50 yards short of the corner, when a BIG round came in, landing down hill from the road. Shrapnel sprayed the trees but I was spared again. Sometimes I wonder what God's plan is for me!! I thank him daily!

Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, my wire crew and I set out to string wire to one of the Bn. Hq. on the hill overlooking St. Goar / Boppard on the Rhine River. I later found out there were two castles across the river from here, called "The Cat and The Maus" The sun was just rising above the east bank of the Rhine as we descended into the valley. A truly beautiful sight.

The standard operating procedure for this type operation was to first find the Hq location, then string the wire back to the Regimental Switchboard. We finally found the Bn. Hq. and set out to lay the wire link. We knew that we would be short of wire so all along the river and rail road we used all the remaining rail telegraph wire we could find in the air and that was serviceable. When we found the spot where we had to leave the river and get back to the Regtíl Hq, we found another wire line in place and spliced in to it. Meanwhile, the day had nearly ended and the Wire Chief came looking for us, wondering what had happened to us. When he found us, he went back to Regt. and laid wire to meet my crew. It was nearly midnight when the wire link was completed. A long day using all the resources we could find to get the two headquarters talking. This line used all the Field Wire we had plus many miles of in place civilian wire lines. Of course, we cut off the ends of the civilian wires in the event they were still connected to some enemy function.

Our Wire Crews performed this activity each and every time the Regiment moved, from the first time we set up a headquarters in Soufflenheim to Nastatten after the war.

After Forbach and Sarrbrucken, things move quite fast in the latter days of the War. We were sent on east to several towns south and east of Frankfort and Mainz. I recall that in Darmstatt, we were on the east side of the city, and had a battalion on the west side. My previous telephone experience came to use here, again. I found an existing telephone cable, looked up the telephone switching center, had the Signal Corps guys find me a pair of wires that worked to our locations on both sides of Darmstatt, hooked up and got the circuit in operation. After Darmstatt, Aschaffenburg and Wurzburg were the deepest into Germany the 276th Regiment went. I picked up an Italian Wheatstone bridge and a German Field Telephone for souvenirs.

We ended up our part of the War by going into a small town east of the Rhine at the Lorelei for Occupation Duty. The townís name is Nastatten. While here, at a time designated as Armed Forces Day or words to this effect, our Regimental Commander, Colonel Morgan, ordered elements of the Regiment to attend ceremonies at an amphitheater on the top of the Lorelei built by Hitler. On the north side of this promontory was a little viewing area from which you could see down the Rhine for several miles. There was also some flag poles in this area that he wanted the Flag to be flown from. No one but you know who would attempt to climb this little spindly little stick several hundred feet above the river to attach a wire for the Flag. (Our telephone pole climbing spurs called hooks were difficult to use without lots of thick tree bark to stabilize them). The picture is quite dim and faded and a copy of the picture of this little feat and others are attached. This is one of my treasured possessions of the War.

From here in July, I was sent home via Camp Lucky Strike, to be a filler in the 4th Infantry Div. At Camp Butner, North Carolina. While home, the big one was dropped and it was all over. When I had accumulated enough points, I was sent home and was discharged at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis MO.

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