The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

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Donald H. Ross at his home in Springfield MA, May 1943, after he enlisted in the Corps of Engineers. He would later join the 300th in England in March, 1944.

About This Site

Building Bridges

Finding the 300th

This journey started when Jan Ross, of Erving, Massachusetts, wanted to find out about what her father did in WWII. Donald H. Ross was a sergeant in the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. He traveled with the 300th for the journey from landing at Normandy to the end of the war in Europe in Schroding, Germany. He told his family little of his experience, and even his wife, Agnes, has only limited recollections of his stories although at 84 she is still very sharp. Donald Ross passed away in 1983 taking with him his personal war story.

The first phase of this journey was a visit by Jan and her husband, Brad Peters, to Europe in July, 2005 with a side trip to Paris and the Normandy invasion beaches. They took guided tours, visited museums and collected books and brochures. Although this brief visit provided some information and answers for them, it raised many more questions.

Returning home, Jan searched the internet for information on the 300th and found a web site for Jeff Palmer in Oklahoma. Jeff's father, Charles Palmer, was with the 300th during the European Campaign. Jan and Jeff exchanged e-mails and Jeff sent an annotated map of the path of the 300th across Europe with specific dates and places related to the 300th. The Camp White web site revealed yet another source of information, Warren Chancellor of Texas, who provided detailed information and answers to specific questions about his unit. Brad's brother, Bob Peters of Texas attended the reunion of the 300th in Dallas in June, 2006. He spoke to the veterans and their families expressing our interest and solicited their support.

Methodology, Research and Reunions

The logical vehicle for this communication is the internet. Not all veterans have direct access to the internet but other veterans or families may be able to download and print the information for them. The internet is low cost, flexible and can be maintained on a current basis.

Jan and Brad purchased the web domain and secured the services of a web designer. Paul Lindale, of Northfield, Massachusetts designed the site and continues to maintain it. Crocker Communications of Greenfield, MA hosts the site at a reduced rate. On Memorial Day, 2007, this site went live as a tribute to this battalion.

Jan and Brad traveled to Dallas, Texas in June 2007 to attend the 51st reunion of the 300th. They presented the site to the veterans and their families explaining how it was developed and showing how to navigate it. Over three days, Jan and Brad taped eight hours of interviews and scanned nearly 200 photographs. In October 2007, Jan and Brad travelled to Tyler, Texas to attend another reunion of the 300th. Again, they taped more interviews and scanned more photographs. In November 2007, they wrote letters to additional veterans and veteran families who have not been able to attend reunions. This effort generated several additional contacts, remembrances and photographs.

David Armstrong, a film maker from Hollywood, located the 300th web site doing his own research and contacted the authors. His grandfather was in the 989th Treadway Bridge Company that was assigned to supply bridging materials to the 300th for the construction of the bridge at Carentan. Mr. Armstrong shared some of his own research with the authors and supplied contact information for two of his researchers who might be able to help locate 300th records.

During the winter of 2008, the authors contracted with these researchers obtaining copies of Army records of the 300th in College Park, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri. Previous attempts to locate these records by veterans and others were unsuccessful and the records were believed to be lost or destroyed in the St. Louis fire at the Archives in the early 1970's. This research in the archives has provided the authors and the men of the 300th with nearly 2500 pages of copies of official Army reports. The documents include: Morning Reports, Unit Journals, Unit Histories, Signal Corps photographs and After Action Reports, all specifically of the 300th. All of these records were completed during the war by members of the 300th themselves sometimes providing an hour by hour accounting of the war and the 300th activities. Jan Ross, co-author of this site, has found several references to her father, Sgt. Donald H. Ross, in these records.

The year 2008 also added an entirely new element to the site: Audio of interviews the authors recorded with the veterans at the reunions. With the very generous support of Markwayne Mullin, grandson of 300th veteran Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris, 56 audio segments from 30 seconds to four minutes are up on the site.

Another development in 2008 involved the story of the destruction of LST 523 off Utah Beach with significant loss of life and injuries of men of the 300th and navy personal. Tracy Sugarman, a navy man as well as an author and illustrator, and Tony Leone, an author and coast guard man, witnessed the tragedy and assisted in the rescue. Their stories and that of the men of the 300th who survived provide a very complete narrative of the event with several images now on the web site. The story of LST 523 is one of the most important and tragic events of the Normandy invasion.

In the fall of 2008, the authors, along with 300th veteran Warren Chancellor and his wife Suzy, met with the Senior Archivist of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. The museum was presented with a printed version of the web site as well as enlarged prints of the 300th map and men of the 300th. The WWII Museum accepted the donation and wrote that the material would be available to others for research. We will continue to provide the Museum with updated material from the site. The Museum indicated that as it expands, consideration is being given to much better focus on the contributions of Combat Engineers in WWII.

Early in 2009, another valuable resource became available to the authors. Don Richter, veteran of the 300th and one of the author's best resources, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact the wife of the commanding officer of the 300th, Col. Riel Crandall, finally made contact his daughter Adrienne Manzone in Connecticut only a couple of hours from the authors home. Adrienne, later visiting her mother, found the bound album presented to Col. Crandall by the officers and men of the 300th in June 1945. Jan and Brad visited Adrienne and her husband Paul and spent several hours scanning nearly 200 excellent quality photographs and pages of information. This material is now up on the site. Special appreciation is expressed to Adrienne and Paul Manzone for their valuable support for this project.

The Dallas reunion in June 2009 provided a single major contribution to the web site. Nettie Palmer, wife of 300th member Harold Palmer, has attended 300th reunions in Dallas for several years with her son-in-law Adrian Lopez. This year, she brought with her a small metal box filled with photographs of the 300th taken during the campaign in Europe. The small photographs, about 2 x 2 inches, are in excellent condition. Many are of the men of the 300th, their equipment, destroyed towns, disabled German tanks and planes and very rare photos of American gliders that landed in France during the Normandy Invasion. This contribution to the web site is the single largest collection of photographs taken by the men of the 300th themselves. The 200 new photographs are in a special collection in the Photo Gallery.

Another addition to the site is additional material about LST 523. Contact with Navy survivors of LST 523, a 300th survivor and the sister of a man of the 300th who lost his life on LST 523 have added new information to the web site. James Kennedy, Jr., a survivor of LST 523, provided his own account of the tragedy in a telephone interview. Contact made by phone with Bessie Maberry Coonts provided detailed information about her brother Simon Maberry who was lost on LST 523. This new information is now available on the site.

The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion is now represented at various WWII reenactments! The aurhors were contacted early in January, 2010 by a WWII reenacting group saying they wanted to represent the 300th in their WWII reenactments. In Bedford, PA on February 19, they participated in the first reenactment as the 300th. There were several reasons why they chose the 300th. They already had restored WWII vehicles, authentic clothing, weapons and equipment. The 300th web site gave them plenty of information and photographs to be as accurate as possible. No one else was reenacting a combat engineer unit and they felt the engineers were not as appreciated for their contributions as they should be. Most importantly, it was an honor for them to recognize the service of the 300th in WWII. The full story is in the Appendix of the History and several photographs of the reenactment are in the Photo Gallery, 300th in WWII Reenactment.

Reunions in Dallas and Tyler in 2010 and 2011 provided new 300th veteran family contacts. Keenan Williams provided hundreds of photographs and paperwork from his father's extensive collection and Barry Renfro provided two albums of his father's photographs. Mike and Sharon Koch provided dozens of her father's photographs and Willie Hein provided dozens of his photographs for the site. These four collections more than doubled the number of photographs and images on the site.

In addition, in 2010 veteran Ben L. White sat down in front of a video camera and recorded two hours of his recollections. Many of these stories are now transcribed and added to the site in the History in several chapters.

In June 2010, Chuck Hodge attended the Dallas, Texas Reunion of the 300th. He recorded lengthy video interviews with veterans Don Richter, Warren Chancellor, Norman Webb and Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris. He also interviewed George Garrison at his home. He gave permission for portions of the interviews to be transcribed and added to the web site. They have been transcribed and were added to the site in various History Chapters in March 2010.

The year 2013 saw several new contacts and inquiries to the web site. Families of the 300th men found the site and asked that their relative of the 300th be added to the Men of the 300th honoring their service to our country. There even were contacts from Europe recognizing the contributions of the men of the 300th and all the others who secured their freedom and the freedom of their families in the future. Three new contacts have turned out to be of special significance. The family of Charles W. Ireland sent two dozen new photographs which now are the Charles Ireland Collection in the Image Gallery. Brad and Jan were contacted by the son of Kal Lewis (Lutsky) who put them in touch with his father. A one-hour phone interview provided a dozen new transcribed recollections, now included in the History. (See separate account below) A Vietnam veteran, Matthew Carlson, in Arizona acquired the Purple Heart awarded to the family of Clarence M. Merriott who perished in the sinking of LST 523 on 19 June 1944. Mr. Carlson’s desire to return the Purple Heart to the home of Pvt. Merriott in Oklahoma will be accomplished appropriately with the assistance of the living men of the 300th in late 2013.

Recently, the 300th web site was the recipient of a major collection of WWII photographs taken and processed in the field by Henry Uhr of the 300th. Henry Uhr was an amateur photographer during his tour of duty in WWII. He took pictures during his training in Oregon and England and then in the battlefields in the European Campaign with the 300th. He developed and printed the photographs in the field and brought them home where he identified locations and soldiers. Henry Uhr, Jr., his son, came to the October 2013 reunion in Tyler, Texas with his wife Charlene and the two large albums of photographs. Brad and Jan scanned more than 100 pages of photographs with more than 400 separate images during the reunion. These photographs can be found now on the web site in the Image Gallery, Henry Uhr Collection, in several categories. It is not surprising that many of the photos appear "dirty" since they were developed and printed in the field and not in a photo lab.

The 70th Anniversary of D-Day (June 2014) generated contacts from Europe and a television documentary. An author/publisher in Belgium contacted the web site for possible use of photographs from the web site. The Mayor of Merode, Germany wrote to say politely that a photograph of a town identified as Geich, Germany was, in fact, the neighboring town of Fussenich and sent current photos to demonstrate his point. (The Army Signal Corps identified the town in the Army archives.) In Cherbourg, France a new exhibit in a cultural complex, LaCire de la Mer, will include enlarged photos from the web site and the 300th map featured on the web site. A PBS documentary in conjunction with French television used the web site for research and includes a segment on the sinking of LST 523.

June 2014 also resulted in a new major contribution to the web site. Frederick Wild III and Valerie Wild Killion contacted the web site to say their father, Capt. Frederick Wild, Jr, a 300th medic, had written extensively in 1994 about his experiences during the war. A total of 11 of his accounts were added to the web site from the writings provided by his children. Capt. Wild passed in 2005.

We received this message by email in 2013. "Hey Jan and Brad, How are you? I'm Florent Plana, the French student who found the military bag of Servando Gonzales 3 years ago [in Normandy]. I have a project to come to the USA next year [2014] for a couple of months in order to interview WWII veterans. Florent made good on his plans and they have expanded. He arrived at the October Tyler reunion with his mother. They are travelling in a camper RV and plan to spend up to a year touring the country and interviewing veterans of WWII. He interviewed some of the men of the 300th at the reunion and has plans to interview others before he concludes his Texas visit.

The 2015 reunion of the 300th in Tyler welcomed 300th veteran Roy Welchel attended his first reunion. Roy's granddaughter, Raquel, found the 300th web site earlier that year and discovered a reference to her grandfather. Roy attended the reunion with his wife and granddaughter where he met veteran Don Richter who was greatly surprised to see his buddy and truck driver of Company B from 70 years ago. Roy survived the sinking of LST 523 and returned to the unit. At the reunion, he remembered the sinking with veteran Homer Garrett who also was injured in the sinking of LST 523.

Don Richter, on behalf of the 300th, presented special certificates to Jan Ross and Brad Peters. In part, Jan's read: "With a feeling of genuine thanks for her great efforts and using her rare abilities in writing, interviewing, promotion and cajolement…" Brad's, in part, read: "With a feeling of genuine thanks for his great efforts and using his rare abilities in writing, editing, scanning and production." Both certificates stated: "We hereby bestow upon you Honorary Membership in our 300th Engineer Combat Battalion WWII where you will continue to be responsible for keeping safe and expanding all memories and stories of the men of the battalion." Jan and Brad accepted the recognition with thanks and as a challenge for the future.

For the 2016 Tyler reunion, Jan and Brad brought a very special guest to the reunion. Jan's mother, Agnes, travelled with them from Massachusetts to attend her first reunion with the 300th. Agnes is now 92. She is the wife of Don Ross, Jan's dad, who was with the 300th throughout the European campaign. Don passed in 1983 without talking about his time in the war. He was a water purification specialist providing safe and potable water for the 300th. The men of the 300th at the reunion described to Agnes what Don had done in the war and how important his role was in support of the men in the battalion.

Also in 2016 we learned by e-mail of an interesting project in France:

Hi my name's is Bertrand Froger,
I am French and live in Normandy. I have the project to build a monument near what we call the Tucker Bridge. Today, nothing says why this bridge is called that and nothing says what happened on it. This monument will celebrate Major John E Tucker in Carentan. (Major Tucker was killed on this bridge while in command of the 300th.) Is it possible to use the only picture you have of Tucker and other officers on your website and put it on the sign which will give information about the monument and the bridge? Regards from France, Bertrand.

Initially, we were not sure where and how this journey would evolve but we felt an obligation to share facts and personal recollections of the 300th veterans and their families in a timely fashion. We never imagined that the site would become what it is today and we know it will continue to grow as this effort encourages other 300th veterans and their families to come forward with additional information. The site now (2017) contains approximately 130,000 words of narrative, 3,000 images, 373 written recollections, and 77 audio recollections.

My Father and the 300th ECB

by Jan Ross

It was not until 2013 that we (Jan Ross and my husband Brad Peters) made contact with the first member of the 300th who served directly with my Dad. Kal Lewis (Kalman Lutsky) now 88, remembers well the 14 months he served as a water purification technician under Sgt. Ross. They, together in a team of four men, “made water” for thousands of U. S. troops who were driving back the German forces from Normandy in June of 1944 to the Battle of the Bulge and ending in southern Germany in May of 1945. Living together in tents, basements of abandoned or damaged homes and on the ground among their water purification equipment.

During our research, we wondered why we had so many photos and recollections shared with us but no one remembered my Dad and he was not in any of the photos. Kal explained to us that the 300th had two, four man water points. One was behind the battalion and the other was out in front of the battalion. The two water points had little contact with the line companies and limited contact with H & S and HQ. They were very much on their own.

lewis
Kal Lewis
ross
Donald Ross

Here is what Kal Lewis says about my Dad.

“Your father was a super conscientious guy. He was very shy and I would say, and don't forget I am a college professor, he was very much an introvert. But he never had a temper and he never was angry with anybody and he loved his job. He loved the water purification and he knew it forwards and backwards.

“I can see your father every day looking at the little glass tubes and the chlorine that went in and he had to meet a certain standard and he was always following it and it was his job and his responsibility to make sure that the tanks were filled with water with the proper purification.

“Sgt. Ross was in charge to make sure we could drink the water. He would probably examine the water six or seven times a day until the tanks were both full. And in the interim, all kinds of troops, combat and artillery troops and tank people and drivers would bring their vehicles to fill up their five gallon cans.”

Recognition

For most of the veterans of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion in WWII, the war and their service to our country formally ended in 1945. These men came home to go on with their lives, to earn a living, to marry and start a family, complete their education, continue on in the workplace and then enjoy their later years of retirement. Some of these men were less fortunate. They came home with emotional and physical issues.

But, almost without exception, they came home to their family, town and country celebrating victory - at least for a time. Daily life quickly moved on as the country settled into peacetime. Little recognition was given for what these men did as individual soldiers and virtually no appreciation of what the combat engineers did in the War. It should come as no surprise that most veterans had little to say about their experiences in the War - even to their families. Words couldn't describe it then and many still struggle with it now.

The 300th, not unlike many other units, years later began to organize reunions. This was the one time the veterans could talk with their "buddies," exchange remembrances, share photo albums and maybe exaggerate just a bit. In many cases, spouses and later children attended the reunions. (More details about 300th reunions). Some members of the 300th and/or their families have had the opportunity to visit Europe, WWII memorials and even retrace their journey through Europe 60+ years earlier.

It was a half-century after the war ended that the nation finally recognized WWII veterans with a memorial in Washington, DC. Tom Brockaw's book, The Greatest Generation, brought to the nation the huge contributions of these brave men and women. The 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2001 and D-Day in 2005, the movie Saving Private Ryan and the book and PBS/video series The War by Ken Burns in 2007, all generated a renewed interest in the younger generations about WWII and the people of that great war. This web site is a contribution to the recognition of these brave soldiers, especially the men of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion.

Contributors

Warren Chancellor, Don Richter, Norman Webb and Army historian, Dr. Larry Roberts, all continue to provide information, advice and review of the site.

Additional information, recollections and photographs have been provided for the site by the following veterans or their families: Walter Allen, Lester Aumann, Jerry Barton, Chuck Bice, Clovis Brown (son Gary Brown), Jack Burk, Leonard Burk, Juke Burnham, Bill Byers, Tony Cannata (son Tony Cannata), Col. Riel Crandall (Daughter Adrienne), Steve Daniels, John Durant, Tommme Elliott, Orville Galloway (Doris Galloway Hutson), Charles Gardner (son Charles Gardner), George Garrison, Cloyd Gibson (daughter Joy Maes), Daniel Grob (son William Daniel), Randy Hanes, Willie Hein, Rayburn Kennedy (son Mike), Herman Killian (wife Barbara and daughter Carolyn), William Lakey, Vencent Laney (son Mark), Jimmie Lee, Joe Leyva (son Robert), William McAlexander, Cecil Milliner, Eddy Monfort (a researcher from Manhay, Belgium), Kenneth Morris, Harold Meyer, Hoyt Neill, Frank Neuhauser, Charles Olive (Daughter Sharon), Charles Palmer (son Jeff), Eugene Powell, Jake Phillipps (daughter Barbara Sprick, Kirksey Putman (wife Willie Faye), Faustino Rangel, Herbert Reinke, Thomas Renfro (Son Barry), Donald Ross (family), Alfred Stein, Servando Varela, Dale Williams (Son Keenan), Norman Webb, Ben L. White, and Forest Wood (daughter Marie).

Note: It is understood that personal recollections that are shared with Brad and Jan may be put up on the web site. Every attempt will be made to use the actual words of the veterans with the materials only edited for length, clarity, typographical errors and propriety of comments.

Copyright Information

No text, images or any aspect of the site design are to be published in any format (book, video, web site, etc) without prior written consent from the authors of the site, its designer and from the contributors who provided information, images or other content.

To contact the authors please visit the CONTACT page.