The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

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The 300th at war.

Newsletters: Fall 2009

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Honoring the Men of the 300th

This is the fourth edition of the 300th Quarterly honoring the 65th anniversary of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion in Europe. We continue to need your help. Please send us any material you wish for inclusion in future issues. Also, please forward to us the mailing address of anyone who might like to receive this newsletter.


The men of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion held its Tyler, Texas reunion on October 1, 2 and 3. Thanks again to Chuck Bice and William Lakey for hosting the reunion. Fifteen veterans attended this year along with family members and family of veterans no longer with us. More than forty people took part in the reunion - the most in several years. Several large group photographs taken of the companies in Europe as well as 200 new individual photographs were available to identify as many men and locations as possible. Many new identifications were made and the photographs generated many new stories.

James Kennedy and his wife attended their first ever reunion. He was wounded in the explosion of LST 523, rescued and then went back into service with Co. C. He was able to exchange stories with the men and learn more about his survival in the explosion and of the man that saved him - "Chief" - now identified as Johnnie Watashe. Sadly, Pvt. Watashe did not survive.

Tony Cannata, son of Anthony Cannata of Co. B, came from California to learn about his father that he never knew. His father was killed in the line of duty as a police officer shortly after his son was born. Don Richter was a good friend of Anthony during the war and spent several hours with Tony during the reunion giving Tony much more information about his father.

Helen Pillack, wife of Gilbert Pillack, and Mildred Schulz, wife of Marvin Schulz, attended the reunion for the first time in many years. Helen provided new photographs including the Tyler reunion in 1984 and 1986 where they both attended the reunion with their spouses.

Everyone involved agreed that the Tyler reunion was a huge success and promised to be back next year.

Modave-Home for the 300th

The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion moved from La Chapelle, France to new headquarters in Modave, Belgium on 14, 1944. They worked and lived out of Modave for two and a half months, the longest stay for the 300th at a single location during the European campaign. In addition to their usual duties, the 300th operated several local saw mills supplying lumber for building bridges and other structures.

The municipality of Modave was, and still is, a very small village in the middle of Belgium. Most of the hamlets of the region appeared during the Merovingian times, A.D. 500 to 750, with several feudal domains. By the 18th century several farms, many fortified, were built. In the 19th century coal and iron mining was replaced by stone excavation supplying the nearby lime industry and marble sawmills. Also developing at the same time were grain mills, rolling mills, paper mills and sawmills. Water from Modave provided Brussels with drinkable water.

The original "owner" of Modave was Wauthier I de Modave who signed an agreement with a tithe (donation) to the St. Denis church in Liege in 1233. He was succeeded by descendants of the Modave family until 1642 when it was purchased by Jean de Marchin, Lieutenant-Governor of Huy. The original castle of Modave was burned by the Duke of Lorraine in 1651. The castle was rebuilt in 1667 by Jean-Gaspard-Ferdinand de Modave, the son of Jean de Marchin.

The castle was designed by French architect Jean Goujon. Water for the castle was provided from the Hoyoux River with a hydraulic water machine invented by the carpenter Rennequin Sualeum which became a model for other castles and chateaus in Belgium and France. The last Lord of Modave from the Marchin family was Jean-Ferdinand who succeeded his father in 1673. He, being a Count, had a little interest in the small village of Modave so he disposed of the village in 1682 to Maximilian-Henri of Bavaria, Archbishop of Cologne. In 1684 the castle of Modave was transferred to Guillaume Egon, Bishop of Strasbourg- who later was declared a traitor to Germany and exiled to France.

In 1706 the main creditor of the castle, Arnold de Ville, was granted the castle where he resided until his death in 1722. In 1730, Modave Castle was transferred to the family of Montmorency where it remained until 1941 when it was purchased by the Compagnie Intercommunale Bruxelloise des Eaux, the Brussels water company. The municipality of Modave since 1976 has included the villages of Modave, Vierset, Stree, Outrelouxhe and Rausa with a population of 3,719 in 2007. Modave Castle remains open to the public with 20 magnificent rooms filled with furniture, paintings, sculptures and tapestries of the 17th century. It also has a full scale model of the Sualeum water lift system.

The Price of Freedom

Linda Birdwell Bice read a poem she wrote at the reunion. It was dedicated to her father, Cpl. William Ward Birdwell, WWII U.S. Army, 481st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion and her father-in-law, Sgt. Chuck Bice, Sr., Co. C, 300th ECB:

It was on a blood-soaked field in Europe that day,
On the frozen, foreign ground bodies of young men lay.
Young men with families back in the States,
Young men who heroically enter heaven's gates.

Only hours ago bullets filled the air,
The night sky was lit up by the cannon's red glare.

Morning's come now, a soft breeze blows the trees.
Snow covers the place where they fell to their knees.

They gave their best when they heard the call.
They gave their lives - they gave it all.
No shame they felt as they fell to the ground.
It's quiet now - there's not even a sound.

There's a peace here now that only death brings.

Snow falls on hands that wore wedding rings.
Snow falls on legs that took family hikes,
Snow falls on feet that taught kids to ride bikes.

War calls for a sacrifice we all must bear.
Each family is called and is expected to share.
So many give their lives so Old Glory can fly.
The price of our Freedom is indeed very high.

Web Site News

At the Dallas reunion in June, Nettie Palmer, wife of Harold Palmer, provided more than 200 photographs (taken by the men of the 300th during the war) to us for scanning. The 2x2 inch photographs were in excellent condition and many are rare. All of the images are now up on the site in the IMAGE GALLERY as the Harold Palmer Collection as well as in the New Additions gallery. Many of the photos are now in the History chapters as well.

Also in the New Additions are photographs from Ouida Pelletteri, wife of Louis Pelletteri. For men who were not supposed to have cameras, these two collections of photographs give us a little more insight into army life during the war. Remember, most of these photographs enlarge when you click on them. Please let us know if you know something about a picture. Every bit of information is important no matter how insignificant it may seem.

The story of LST 523 has expanded and is now titled Voices of LST 523. The new material has broadened the account necessitating the title change. James Kennedy who was wounded on LST 523 contacted Brad Peters and Jan Ross to describe his experience and how he rejoined the 300th. Brad and Jan were able to contact Bessie Maberry Coonts, sister of Simon Maberry, who was lost on LST 523. She told a moving story about her brother and how the family learned the details of his death. The account is at the end of the LST 523 chapter. These two accounts were the result of this newsletter.

Several more individuals have contacted the site by e-mail with comments (all favorable), requests for information, some corrections and additional information about the 300th. Interestingly, many of these contacts have come from Europe, some in other than English requiring translation. All of these have received a prompt response.

We invite your comments and contributions.