S/Sgt. DICK GARRISON STORY
PATCH EIGTH INFANTRY DIVISION

8th Infantry Division, 121st Infantry Regiment, Company I
2nd Platoon : Infantry Platoon Guide

S/Sgt Garrison and Pal Dick Garrison from Clarksburg , Ohio entered the 97th Infantry Division along with good friend, Jack Ater. However, after a few not so enjoyable months of training in Texas, Garrison was “eager to see new things and see some action,” so he volunteered for combat. As an infantry rifleman, Garrison was assigned to the 8th Infantry Division, 121st Infantry Regiment, Company I, 2nd Platoon. Along with other replacement troops, he soon boarded a ship bound for Ireland, where the division was already based and training for the Normandy invasion.

The 8th Division was stationed in Colebrooke (Brookeborough), Ireland on the large estate of Sir Basil Brook, an early prime minister of Northern Ireland. The troops took residence in Quonset huts which lined the estate. Soon after Garrison settled into camp, he met and made friends with George Davis from Townsend, Tennessee.

In preparation for the Normandy Invasion, the 8th Division moved from Brooksboro to the port town of Belfast, Ireland. Around June 6, 1944, the men boarded large barges and traveled around Plymouth, up into the English Channel, and stopped just shy of the Normandy coastline where the troops climbed down into landing crafts. Garrison and Davis were on the same landing craft and with no opposition nor enemy artillery in the area, they set foot on French soil for the first time at Utah Beach, a few days following the main invasion.

By the time the 2nd Platoon fully unloaded, the troops gathered together and then set out for what Davis remembers to be a ten to twelve mile march to the front lines. By this time, the 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions, along with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had been successful at moving the Germans well off the beach a few miles inland. The 8th Division advanced through the rubble of war tattered Montebourg and the first battle that Garrison participated in was in the small town of Lessay, located a few miles north of Coutances. However, the fighting in the Normandy region did not end at Lessay, as the division kept driving.

As Garrison and the remainder of the Company prepared to move toward St. Lô, a column of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Divisionwalking back from the front line. Garrison struck up a conversation with one of the paratroopers, and by the time they were done, he had swapped his M-1 for the paratrooper's Thompson Machine Gun. He said “the Thompson was much more effective in towns and city fighting around the buildings.” He kept the Thompson with him throughout the war. When he traveled by foot he would load the Thompson onto a cook's truck for future use. However, most of the time he used an M-1 Garand.

M1 GARAND
M1 Garand(Photo coutesy of Donald Brescia)

As the 8th Division moved closer to St. Lô, they experienced heavy resistance and fighting from the Germans, however they eventually splintered the German's defensive line enabling General Patton's armored divisions to power through the lines and drive the enemy back through Coutances and eventually Avranches. According to Davis, the tanks were traveling so much faster than the foot soldiers by this time that they had to be picked up by trucks on occasion just so they could keep up with the armor. As the tanks devastated German positions throughout the Normandy countryside, I Company (along with the rest of the Division) was “mopping up” Coutances and Avranches. As described by Davis, “after the armored divisions would roll through an area, we would come into town, occasionally get into small skirmishes with isolated pockets of Germans hiding out in the houses, take prisoners, and then move on to keep up with the tanks.”

By the end of the Normandy Campaign, Garrison had zigzagged the countryside marching and fighting from Utah Beach to Rennes. Fortunately, he and Davis both went unscathed in a division that took heavy casualties. Soon after reaching Rennes, the division was detached from the 1st Army and added to the 9th Army as part of a force designed to clear out the German forces defending the Port of Brest.

In September of 1944, when the 121st Infantry Regiment arrived in Brest and took positions along the front line, I Company did not participate in the street fighting. Sgt. Davis, whose biggest concern throughout the war was getting captured by the Germans, pointed out that they never were in a position where they had to fight hand to hand against the enemy. He said, “When {the fighting} gets that close, somebody gives. And fortunately, the Germans always wanted to give up first.” When the going got too tough for the Germans in the 8th Division's sector of Brest, most of the Germans eventually gave up.

However, the fighting in Brest remained tough well after I Company was removed from the front lines. Eventually, Garrison and the remainder of I Company moved outside of the city limits, away from the sporadic fire of isolated Germans, and held reserve positions for a few days while waiting for replacements from the 28th Infantry Regiment. When the 121st was finally relieved, the Regiment formed a column and marched back from the fighting.

From Brest, Garrison moved with the division by truck through France, until they reached a section of rail that had been repaired. They loaded onto 40 and 8 boxcars and traveled by train to a small town on the outskirts of Paris. The division set up camp in the village and issued new uniforms to every soldier, which was a relief, according to Davis, because they had been wearing the same uniforms for four months since landing at Utah Beach in June.

Following a quick overnight, the men re-boarded the train bound for the city of Luxembourg, passing through Paris and Verdun along the way. While in Luxembourg, the division was tasked to hold the line and act as a deterrent to any German forces that made advances against their position. Fortunately, Luxembourg was a quiet sector and Garrison saw very little fighting in the area. In fact, the extent of his job was to participate in shifts of guard duty.

By the end of October, 1944, the 8th Division received orders to move out of Luxembourg to replace the war tattered 28th Infantry Division in the Huertgen forest. It was no secret that the 28th had taken heavy casualties and was in constant contact with the Germans throughout the forest, however, it was obvious that the fighting was bad by simply examining the quality of their foxholes. Not only was the region crawling with German infantrymen, but it was also heavily defended by German 88mm artillery. To protect themselves from artillery air bursts designed to shatter trees and rain splinters of wood onto the troops, deadly as regular shrapnel, the men of the 28th had already placed logs over top of their deep foxholes for added protection. Additionally, the German's fixed defensive positions were just as protective, and as our troops advanced through the forest, they would use these positions for protection as well. The region was a constant battle for inches, as troops hop scotched from one hole to the next, gaining ground and then losing ground for months.

LOG COVERED BUNKER IN THE HUERTGEN FOREST

For Garrison, the Battle for the Huertgen Forest was the beginning of a front line stand of more than 30 days of personal contact with the enemy. And by the first of November, when I Company had moved to the front line, Garrison and Davis were the most experienced soldiers in their platoon. In fact, they were among an elite group of 8th Infantry soldiers who survived the street fighting of St. Lô in Normandy, heavy opposition in Brest, Luxembourg, and almost a month of horrible fighting and weather in Germany. By November, the 40 men of the 2nd Platoon were led into battle by Platoon Leader, Sgt. Davis, and Platoon Guide, S/Sgt. Garrison. By this time, few soldiers throughout the entire Division had earned the right to lead their Platoon into battle more than these two non-coms.

The fighting in the Huertgen Forest took place in close proximity to Aachen, Germany. The enemy opposition was fierce and coupled with cold and wet weather, the fighting conditions were unbearable. Throughout the campaign, S/SGT Garrison was responsible for leading his men and keeping tabs on the constant shift of enemy positions in front of the 2nd Platoon. As daylight fell, Garrison would choose two men to accompany him on a nightly scouting mission. Garrison's job was to quietly venture past the 2nd Platoon's furthest outpost and “come in contact with the enemy.” As he described it, “{this required us} to get close enough to a German position to hear voices, smell food, or even catch a shiny reflection of the moon from a gun barrel or helmet and then return to our foxhole,” without getting killed by jittery American troops stationed at the point.

Through numerous scouting missions, Garrison “came into contact with the enemy” often. He assumed, that on occasion, German troops would spot his group and allow them to pass through the line and return unscathed to avoid a fight, because he and his platoon allowed Germans to do the same thing as well. Undoubtedly, it was the worst duty imaginable. It was unglamorous by every definition, and the most risky and under appreciated job in the U.S. Military. However, Company Commanders relied on accurate reconnaissance data from courageous and seasoned soldiers like Garrison for strategic advances and artillery barrages. As the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power,” and without the effort, I Company would have been at a great disadvantage.

These dangerous nightly scouting missions put Garrison and his men in harms way for over a month. And adding that the Germans were shelling methodically during daylight hours, the casualty rate for the division was extremely high. Old friends were becoming non existent. According to Davis, the front line became a lonely place for himself, Garrison, and the few men whom they actually knew. In fact, by this time, it was common for four to five replacement troops to be assigned to the platoon a day. As Davis described it, “it was impossible for us to get to know them all... and they would be gone before you knew it.”

After a few days in the region, a “green” Ranger outfit took positions along the front line to protect the 8th Division's flank. However, the Germans quickly learned they were an inexperienced group and overran them almost immediately. Many of the Rangers were killed and the survivors were scattered throughout the forest. During this time, Davis, Garrison, and a few others found shelter in an abandoned German bunker and rotated two men every few hours to pull guard duty, while the others rested inside. A young Captain from the Ranger unit was separated from his men and had taken shelter for the night behind the bunker. When Pvt. Wylie (A friend of Dick and George's from Texas) noticed a soldier sleeping behind the bunker, he yelled “Hey you! Get up here and do your share of the guard duty!” The Captain jumped up from his sleep and assumed the position until the shift changed. As the Captain climbed inside the bunker after being replaced, Wylie and the rest of the men were shocked to see his officer bars and were more surprised that Wylie did not get reprimanded for disrespecting an officer. However, according to Davis, the Captain was a good man, and under the circumstances, did his share of duty without complaining.

On November 19, George Davis' 23rd birthday, Garrison and Davis, along with the rest of I Company, crossed the Siegfried Line near the border town of Eupen, Belgium. On the morning of November 29, 1944, the regiment was advancing through the forest close to Aachen, on an objective to eventually take Cologne and seize the autobahn that ran in close proximity to the city. The 2nd Platoon, led out front by Davis, were making their way through the bitter cold forest when they overran a pack of Germans, who quickly surrendered. The men stripped the Germans of their weapons and herded them in one area. Wylie quickly jumped out in front with Davis as the platoon proceeded ahead. Within seconds of capturing the first bunch of soldiers, Davis and Wylie spotted a few more Germans sneaking through the brush ahead. Davis, expecting the Germans to surrender, hesitated for a second and told Wylie to hold his fire. Unfortunately, as Davis described it, “I guess we got a little careless and let our guard down.” Moments later the German pulled up his rifle and shot Davis through the lower right arm. He said, “I looked right in the eyes of the German who shot me.” Davis remembers falling against a tree and getting at least one shot off from his M-1, but soon afterwards, he needed to get to an aid station because he was losing blood. He walked back through the forest about 300-400 yards and ran into the 81st Chemical Mortar Group. He started getting sick. A medic from the unit gave him a shot of morphine which made him feel much better and a chaplain drove a jeep up and hauled him to the nearest aid station.

As of November 29, George Davis was being patched up and sent to England for surgery. Garrison was now in charge of the platoon. Unfortunately, like most seasoned 8th Division soldiers before him, his position of authority was only to last a few days. On December 2, 1944, Garrison and six others were sharing a large foxhole when a German artillery barrage opened up on his platoon. Shells began to fall in their vicinity. One shell nearly scored a direct hit on their position, exploding directly in front of the foxhole. Shrapnel ripped through the hole and hit the soldier sitting directly in front of Garrison in the chest, killing him immediately. Another piece of shrapnel lodged painfully in Garrison's knee. When the barrage slowed a few minutes later, Garrison, with the aid of a couple other men, limped back through the snow covered forest toward an aid station. After a painful trek through the snow of more than a mile, Garrison made it to the aid station. He said that he would have gone to the aid station located closer to the front lines, but due to the heavy fighting in the area, no soldier was sure of his fate while getting aid so close to the enemy line.

On December 2, 1944, Garrison's long days and nights of front line infantry fighting were over. He was patched up and shipped to England where his knee was operated on, as well as his appendix later. By Spring (April or May) of 1945, Garrison was sent to the states to rest and recover from his wound.

Garrison and Davis, like many seasoned 8th Infantry soldiers, were recovering from their wounds by the time the Germans had surrendered in May of 1945.

The 8th Division participated in more than its share of tough fighting in the European Theater. The division's casualty and turnover rate was well over 300% and most of the men who landed at Utah Beach in early June of 1944 were unable make it as far as Garrison. By the time they made it to Germany, Davis said “we were a pretty rugged bunch.”

~ Story written by Victor Cleary ~

HORIZONTAL FLOURISH LINE

Source: Clarksburg's Courageous WWII Veterans
Many thanks Vic for the use of your story.

Top of Page

Sitemap