PFC HOLLIS A CLOYD
As a young teenager, I used to look at the simple government issue grave marker with a mild curiosity whenever we made a trip to the cemetery. It was located at the local Gann Cemetery and was marked with the name of PFC Hollis A. Cloyd. Hollis Cloyd was my great uncle and was only eight years older than my dad. He was born on 19 March 1919 in Lufkin, TX and died near Holsthum, Germany 25 February 1945. According to Bessie Cloyd Loving , sister of Hollis, he went to school at Central through the fifth grade. Just before the war he had worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps in New Mexico for a year, a job Aunt Bessie said he really liked.
I remember the day I asked my grandmother about my uncle Hollis. She went into the front bedroom and brought out an old shoe box and a round cardboard tube about 14 inches long. The shoebox contained a stack of letters that my grandmother had saved from Hollis, sent home during World War II. I sat down and spent much of the afternoon reading through the letters and documents. The cardboard tube contained his Purple Heart Certificate and a letter from Major General J. A. Ulio explaining the Purple Heart and a description of the decoration. Also in the tube were letters of condolence from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Governor Stevenson of Texas and a group picture of 176 army soldiers holding a sign with "304 G" written on it. I carefully packed the letters and pictures away and it was the last I saw of them for thirty-five years.
In August of 1998 I got a rebuilt computer with enough power to get on the internet. I had always been a lover of history and especially of the war years in the 1940's, so that is what got it all started. I began to search cyberspace for information about World War II, and to look for information about Patton's Third Army. I could remember that Hollis Cloyd had been associated with the Third Army, but I couldn't remember his unit numbers. I drove up to Gann Cemetery and wrote down what was on his grave marker and then began to search again. I was now looking for the 304th Infantry, 76th Division of the Third Army.
I found very little at first under Third Army. I next tried searching for information on the 304th Infantry Regiment, and had no luck at all. Under the 76th Division I was able to find scattered information about the Division's actions in Europe and a brief chronology, but I still did not find anything that told me what happened on 25 February 1945. In the middle of October I found a website by a Mr.Wesley Johnston entitled "Dad's War". Mr. Johnston had been researching his dad's 7th Armored Division during World War II, and had put detailed information on his website on how to do your own research.
The thing that jumped out at me was the statement that you have to start now. The veterans of World War II are becoming fewer each year, and it is going to become harder and harder to find your relative's service buddies.
I was following through with Mr. Johnston's suggestions and guidelines when I found a site that listed all of the Infantry Regiments by number. I clicked on the 304th and got an e-mail address for a Mr. Robert Reithel. I sent a short note to him telling him what I was trying to do and that I was searching for more information about Hollis Cloyd's service and death. This was on 23 Oct. 1998. At the time I didn't expect to find out very much from Mr. Reithel, and I certainly didn't think I would find anyone who knew him.
I found the letters I had read so many years ago in a trunk in my mom and dad's attic. The letters got me more information about where Hollis was stationed in the Aleutians during the first two years of the war. I read the letters again and began to organize them as I put them in plastic sleeves to preserve them. I continued to look for information in the coming months and had forgotten the letter I had sent to the 304th e-mail address. I have tried to find where I originally got the e-mail address for the 304th Infantry Association, but to this day I cannot retrace my steps to find it again.
On 7 Nov. 1998 I got a return letter from Robert Reithel's son saying that his dad had passed away on October 25. He said that he had sent my letter on to Jay Hamilton who was Secretary-Treasurer of the 304th Infantry Regiment Association. Mr. Hamilton had not been able to reach me on my e-mail address because I had mistakenly typed in .com on the end of the address instead of .net. Not having the original letter he could not get through to me with a message.
I quickly sent a letter to Jay Martin Hamilton, Lt. Col. AUS-Retired, and gave him my correct e-mail address. Over the next five months I learned more than I ever imagined. I began a long and detailed correspondence with Mr. Hamilton beginning with him sending me a copy of the "304th Infantry History" and a membership in the 304th Infantry Regiment Association and 76th Infantry Division Association in honor of PFC Hollis A. Cloyd, ASN 38074882.
I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center, an address given in Mr. Johnston's website, and got Hollis Cloyd's brief records showing the dates he entered service, with each change of duty, medals, decorations and cause of death. Surprising to me, the records were very minimal and were no larger than five cards 3"x8" in size. Sending this information to Mr. Hamilton he was able to decipher the records for me.
Hollis A. Cloyd had entered the Army on Jan. 28, 1942 at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX and had been sent to Camp Roberts, CA where he went through basic training with Company C, 77th Infantry Training Battalion. His first letter home to my grandmother in March 1942 told her "Well sis I have made expert on the Bayonet course. I hope I can get a string of medals as long as my arm when I come home I will have something to remember this hole (thing)..." Later in April he wrote of not liking boot camp at all and saying "...I sure ain't far from a bunch of crazy men just a couple of walls between us and it may be catching..." At the time he wrote the letter he was in the hospital with the measles.
On 14 May 1942 he was assigned to Company I, 138th Infantry at Fort Lewis, WA shipping out to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on 2 June 1942. In the Aleutians he was stationed at Fort Glenn, Umnak Island, Alaska, 60 miles from Dutch Harbor. Fort Glenn was a secret base built in 1941 to support a nearby Army Air Corps base. He stayed at Fort Glenn from 17 June 1942 until 3 June 1944 under the Alaskan Defense Command. The campaign in the Aleutians was called the "forgotten war", and I believe it, because I have been able to find out little of what happened there and little about the 138th Infantry. Hollis wrote home often from Fort Glenn, turned out he was plenty bored and would have written home more if paper hadn't been in short supply.
The 138th Infantry departed Alaska under IX Corps and arrived at Camp Shelby, MS on June 9 where the 138th was inactivated on 20 July 1944. While at Camp Shelby, Hollis was under the 2nd Army (his third shoulder patch of the war) until being reassigned to the 304th Infantry at Camp McCoy, WI. There he wore his fourth patch of the war, that of the 76th Division. He was in G Company, 2nd Battalion of the 304th Infantry Regiment of the 76th Division.
The 76th Division had three infantry regiments, the 304th, 385th and 417th.. Each regiment had three infantry battalions, each battalion had four companies and each company had four platoons. Hollis' 2nd Battalion was comprised of E, F, G and H Companies and he was in 3rd Platoon of G Company.
Hollis came home to Lufkin on furlough for twelve days during October 1944. This time at home was the last time the Cloyd family was to see him. He rejoined the 304th on 23 October 1944. Towards the end of November the 76th Division got their orders and moved by rail to Camp Myles Standish, MA outside Boston. On Thanksgiving Day they began to board the USAT (US Army Transport) Brazil for the trip to Southampton, England. At 15 minutes after midnight on 24 Nov. 1944 they began their voyage across the Atlantic, arriving at their dock in Southampton at six o'clock in the evening of 5 December 1944. The men boarded trains taking them to the resort city of Bournemouth, and then boarded trucks to their billets in nearby Boscombe-by-the-Sea.
Writing home to my grandmother on December 26, 1944, Hollis told her that England was not what she heard it was. He said "..just wait till I see you and I can tell you more about this d--- place..". It was the only curse word I found in any of his letters. He was not pleased with England. Others I have talked to have had different impressions.
On January 10th the 304th boarded LST's for a rough ride across the English Channel to disembark at Le Havre, France. Hiking 10 miles outside Le Havre to an open field where they bedded down in ice and slush. They awoke the next morning to a breakfast of Spam, bread and coffee, and on the morning of the 11th George Company moved by motor convoy to St. Pierre-Benouville.
On January 18th the men marched to Auffay, France to board 40 and 8's and move by rail through the rest of France. The rail cars were called 40 and 8's because they could hold 40 men or 8 horses. In each car were crammed 34 men and equipment. On January 21st they arrived at Somme-a-py, France. On January 22nd they arrived at the Belgian village of Hives, in the center of the Ardennes "Bulge". The men of the 2nd Battalion, 304th Infantry were now a reserve for the VIII Corps of the Third Army.
On January 24th the men moved out again arriving near Osweiler, Luxembourg where they dug in along the Sauer River which separated them from Germany. While moving into their positions they were under constant artillery and mortar fire, the first enemy fire they had encountered. While dug in near Osweiler the men patrolled the area every night and kept on the alert for German infiltrators. It was on one of these patrols that PFC France Q. Cook, also a member of 3rd Platoon, said he spent the night with Hollis in a haystack as a German patrol passed nearby. Mr. Cook told me over the phone that they didn't fire on the patrol because they would have been sitting ducks in the haystack.
On February 3rd the Battalion moved to Berbourg, Luxembourg in reserve. It was in Berbourg that the men saw their duffel bags for the last time until the end of the war on May 9th. G Company would be in reserve for 2 weeks at Berbourg. It was during this time at Berbourg that Hollis would write his last letters home. The last to my grandmother was written on February 12, 1945.
On February 16th the 2nd Bn moved to the town of Echtenacherbruch, their first stop inside Germany. On the 17th Hollis wrote his last letter to his mother, and in it he said "Well mother, your soldier boy is now in Germany his eight(h) country to go in. I hope I get through as I have all the others I've been through..." They remained in this position until February 23rd, the day they would begin preparations for their push into the Siegfried Line. At 2300 on February 24th the men of the first and second platoons marched to the Prum River where they would cross just east of Shankweiler to take the opposing banks and attack to the southeast.
The third platoon of George Company was in Battalion reserve, and they followed the rest of the units across the Prum and up the hill digging in on the first ridge the morning of the 25th of February. During the early morning hours of the 25th of February the 3rd Platoon of G Company received heavy artillery and mortar fire. Many of the artillery rounds exploded in the treetops causing "tree bursts". The concussion would break off limbs that would add to the shrapnel that killed and wounded. The concussion, according to France Cook, "...would come to the ground, lift things up, and drop them with a deadly force."
It was sometime during the morning near noon that Hollis Cloyd was mortally wounded by one of these tree bursts. France Cook said that he was about 20 yards from Hollis when he was wounded, and that he ran to his side. Hollis had been impaled to the ground through the right hip by a tree limb approximately 8" in diameter by 20' in length. He told me that Hollis said to him "Cook, go save yourself, I'm dying." France Cook stayed with Hollis for several minutes in the open trying to comfort him before they had to move out on the attack. Hollis would die from his wounds on that day. His death records show that he died from "traumatic amputation of right leg". He had evidently survived until Medics tried to free him from the limb pinning him to the ground. The last letter he wrote home to his mother would not be postmarked until March 2nd, five days later.
The 304th Infantry would continue the fight across Germany. They chased and fought the German army for over four hundred miles through a little more than fifty days. They captured nearly 7000 prisoners and liberated thousands more. The 2nd Battlaion led by Lt. Col. Donald Richardson was notified on 17th of April that they had made the deepest penetration into Germany of all the Allied forces. Young men who came from all walks of life, followed orders and fought hard. The men I have talked to are proud of what they accomplished, and not a day goes by that they don't think of the buddies they left behind.
All of the information I have gotten was made possible by my fortunate contact with Jay Hamilton in Medford, OR. His kind help led me to others of the 304th Infantry Regiment who were all helpful to a man. Most helpful was France Cook of Philadelphia who was with Hollis in the third platoon and Richard Schappel of Oak Ridge, TN who was with Headquarters Company and who had one of the last remaining copies of "As It Happened", the history of the 2nd Battalion, which added detail of G Company. Also Richard Dawley of third platoon who still had fond memories of Hollis Cloyd. Members of the 2nd platoon who remembered Hollis from the picture I sent, and who sent many personal mementos and information about the actions they were involved in were Earl Huntoon of Montgomery, IL and Harold Lindberg of Mesa, AZ. Mr. Lindberg wrote a wonderful book of his experiences in World War II and kindly sent me a copy. The 2nd platoon would suffer 100% casualties and Mr. Lindberg was the last man out as he was tagged for battle fatigue.
It would be the first week of April 1945 before the Cloyd family would learn of Hollis' death in Germany. Hollis was interred in the National Cemetery in Luxembourg on March 2nd, the same day his last letter to his mother was postmarked. The following months the family would begin to receive back the letters that had been sent to Hollis after his death. The last was written by my grandmother on April 2nd and returned the first of July 1945.
PFC Hollis Archie Cloyd served his nation and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Killed in Action on 25 February 1945 after serving 3 years and 28 days, he was laid to rest in the United States Military Cemetery, Hamm, Luxembourg in Plot K, Row 2, Grave 38 on March 2, 1945. In 1949, Hollis was brought home for the last time and at 3 PM on 16 April 1949, was laid to rest at Gann Cemetery north of his home of Lufkin, Texas. Hollis A. Cloyd had been awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Oak Leaf Cluster to the Bronze Star Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/1 Battle Star, European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal w/2 Battle Stars, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, and Expert Badge w/Rifle Bar. I submitted a request for his Medals that were never received by the family and full records in January 1999. A letter listing the medals that Hollis had earned was finally received on 12 May 2001, with the medals to be sent within 120 days. The Medals finally arrived in January 2002, three years after first sending in the required paperwork. The list of Medals were not quite as long as his arm, as he had exclaimed in his letter in April 1942 from Camp Roberts. The family would have gladly given them back for his safe return home.
I had sent out 27 letters the last week of January to past members of G Company and the 304th. In the first week I received four phone calls and three responses by e-mail. In all I received replies from 17 of the 27 letters sent. From these men I got copies of the 2nd Bn, 304th Regt, and 76th Div histories. I have received personal memorabilia and stories, but most of all I have been given a deeper understanding of the hardships the WWII generation had endured. To the men of the 304th Infantry Regiment, I commend you for your kindness, understanding and tremendous courage.
On the 23rd to 26th of September 1999 my wife and I attended the annual joint reunion of the 76th Division and 304th Infantry Regiment in Nashville, TN. Four members of George Company attended the reunion. France Cook who remembered Hollis' action the best, and Richard Dawley of Mt Holly, VT who was with Cook and Hollis in the 3rd platoon and had not seen Mr. Cook since 1945. Also Richard Schappel of Headquarters Company, and Harold Lindberg of Mesa, AZ of the 2nd platoon, who was attending his very first reunion so that we could meet. It was by far the best vacation of my life.
In today's society, where the word "hero" is often misused, I am thankfully reminded of the true definition of the word. Everyone in the 304th that I talked with, fit the definition of the word, and everyone of them to a man said the true heroes were the ones they left behind. During my five months of research and contact with members of the 304th Infantry Regiment, I could only think of how it would have been to have known my uncle Hollis. As I finish this story I can say that Hollis A. Cloyd lives in my heart, and hope that the information I have uncovered will preserve his memory for those who never knew him, and for those who were lucky enough to say "I did".