HENRY M. STAIRS, JR.
HQ 1st BN 117th INF
Battle of Mortain drawing by Henry M. Stairs Jr. After much
research and double checking it was learned that Waldo Pierce, 1st scout in
the 1st Platoon of Company A, 117th was with Frank Joseph in the drawing.
Apparently it was the first day of combat for Buzzard and although he did
come up and drop off bazooka ammo, he did not stick around. Waldo
Pierce was quite a character along with Frank Joseph. Follow this link
to read more about the two...courtesy of Frank Joseph III.
Frank Joseph/Waldo Pierce Link
Frank Joseph website link
Russians and Americans Cpl. Stairs, standing, third from left; Second from right, standing, Cpl. Don Pontius; Center kneeling, Lt. Nick Haluszczak, Stairs Platoon leader (Battlefield Commission); on Nick's left, Lt. Ralph Daniel; others unknown. Magdeburg, Germany. May 1945
1. At left, Cpl. Rod Driesens with Cpl. Stairs. Note bulge "K" rations in field jackets, old style leggings. Oct. 5th, 1944 near Ubach, Germany. 2. Sgt. Stephen (Shotgun) Habetler, left with Cpl. Stairs, January 25th, 1945 in Sart, Belgium. 3. Center rear, Cpl. Stairs; Left rear, Cpl. William (Muscles) Bryant; at right, PFC Glenn Pearson. 4. At left, PFC Thelman Harvey holding a high silk hat and Cpl. Rod Driesens near Ubach, Germany, October 5th, 1944. 5. The town square in Sart, Belgium, January, 25th, 1945. (Photo No. 2 above was taken on the steps of the church in the background. 6. Cpl. Stairs in Magdeburg, Germany after V-E Day, May 1945.
I know Capt. Kent had his HQ in the Chateau.
I joined the division on August 4 while they (we) were in reserve. Edward G. Robinson the "gangster" movie star visited the Bn. I did not go to see him, I wanted to write letters. There were about 25 replacements as I recall in the group. Col Johnson had us gather around for a greeting. He said (which I have heard somewhere before or since).,"Look to your right, now look to your left. One of you will become a casualty, the other two are going to be damned soldiers for this regiment". When we arrived at Bn Hq and were digging our foxhole the Bn Sgt Major came to us and asked if anyone could type. I said I could. He said "Come with me". When we reached the Command Post he told me to sit at his typewriter and type. I started, "Now is the time for all...." He said Okay, you are now the Battalion Clerk. I found out later the other clerk had been hit in the ass with a piece of shrapnel, On the 6th we were on trucks to go "up front" to relieve the 1st division. It was supposed to be a picnic because there were no Germans in "the area". No sooner had we detrucked when four German planes dove down and strafed us. Next morning all hell broke loose, Artillery falling and bullets snapping over our foxhole (sounds just like a whip cracking). A Sgt came to our foxhole and said, "You two go up to that hedgerow and take a firing position, "We are now the front likes" What time was it, I do not know for sure but the fog had lifted. I could hear the tanks rumble forward of the next hedgerow. I thought, I can shoot a German foot soldier if he comes through but what the hell will I do if a tank comes through". Neither did. That night or perhaps the night before there was a tree burst over our foxhole Next morning the ground around our hole was peppered with pock marks from blast. We were not told about the "Screaming Meemies" in training. This is a multitube (I think six) mortar gun. You could hear the scream from the time it left the barrel until it exploded. Yeeewww, Yeeewww in quick succession all six shots pierced the air. For five days, that was a constant threat.
I joined the 30th an August 4th as a replacement, Mortain was my baptism to fire. I do not know which day it was, I suspect the 7th of August. Anyway, I was in Hq Co of the 1st Bn. A Sgt. came to the foxhole of me and my buddy and said, "You two go up to the hedgerow there and take up a firing position, we are now the front lines". I remember just like it happened this morning. I could hear the tanks forward and said to myself, "If a Jerry comes through there, I have no problem shooting him but if a tank comes what the hell will I do?". Neither came. I also said,"If this is combat, how the devil does anyone survive?"
Indeed, it was one of the most important battles of the War, the 30th Div saved Patton's" behind, he would have been cut off from his supply lines. The RAF, with their tank killing rockets also gave us great support later in the day, I can still see them flying over at tree-top height.
We left the Mortain area on or about August 14, swung south of the Falaise Gap and headed toward Paris in a motor convoy traveling east for over 100 miles. We crossed the Seine River in last days of August, north of Paris. heading northwest toward the town of Tournai, Belgium. Sept 7, trucks again in a 75 mile trip. Then after hiking 65 miles in three days. the division was the first Allied troops to enter Holland around mid Sept. We reached the Siegfried Line on or about Sept 20. Next two weeks were spent in special training to attack the Siegfried and for other divisions in the rear to catch up for support. There was a small river in front of the line of pillboxes, we practiced crossing using a hand carried footbridge (three sections that would forman inverted "A" in the river). It was more like a trout stream. Trained with flame throwers and two types of explosive charges about the size of a small pillow made of canvas; one had a loop for a handle, the other was mounted at the end of a long pole. They were called "satchel charge" and the other "pole charge". The idea was for small arms and mortar fire to blast the opening to keep the occupants head down while the the troops maneuvered forward with the charges to place them near the firing ports or around the back of the pillbox against the metal doors. They worked. Prior to the attack on October 2, artillery and air strikes bombed the pillboxes. P-38 planes dropped "jelly bombs", I guess they were later called "napalm". Neither did much damage to the Germans manning the forts, but the bombs did provide shell holes where our guys could get some cover as they advanced. I read some where, after Mortain our charge across France, Belgium and Holland was to longest advance in that short month of any infantry division in history. I, as an infantryman, was in excellent physical shape but I remember during our "footrace" from Mortain to the Siegfried Line, my hip sockets felt like they were lined with sandpaper.