The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

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The 300th at war.

Newsletters: Winter 2011

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"Cowboy" Morris goes to Washington

Health issues kept Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris from attending the Tyler reunion the first weekend in October. He had been a fixture at most reunions for years and in fact was in Dallas with more than 20 family members including four generations in June. It would take more than health issues to keep Cowboy from his scheduled trip to Washington, D. C. on October 12, 2010 accompanied by his grandson Mark Wayne Mullin. Cowboy was one of the 50 recipients of the trip through the Oklahoma Honor Flights Program to visit the World War II Memorial for those who served in World War II.

This was Cowboy's first time on a plane at nearly 88 years old. It was a whirlwind trip leaving Oklahoma City at six in the morning and returning at 11 o'clock that night. The World War II veterans and their escorts also visited the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. Cowboy is now one of 36,000 veterans to visit the memorials through the national Honor Flights Program. Honor Flights are available for WWII veterans throughout the U. S. through regional programs.

Forrest Burnham

Forrest "Juke" Burnham passed away on November 4, 2010. It was exactly a month after he attended the 300th reunion in Tyler Texas. He told and listened to stories about World War II experiences and after the reunion described it as one of the best reunions in his memory. Juke has been attending reunions in Dallas and Tyler on a regular basis for many years.

Juke was born in Onanah, Texas on September 11, 1924. He served with the 300th through the European campaign. He later worked in several occupations including: dairy farming, teaching, a food and drug inspector and oil drilling. This was where he was dubbed "juke box" because the first thing he did when he went to an eating establishment was to go to the juke box to play songs.

He is survived by his wife Ludonna who attended the reunions with Juke as well as three sons one a retired Army Colonel who attended recent reunions with Juke. The 300th made a donation in his memory supporting this issue of the 300th Quarterly. Juke will be very much missed at future reunions.

Tony Leone

Tony Leone passed this last summer. As a member of the Coast Guard, he witnessed the explosion and the sinking of LST 523 off Utah Beach on June 19, 1944. Because his boat was incapacitated, he had to watch as other Coast Guard boats participated in the rescue of the men of the 300th and Navy men on that fateful day. He later wrote about the horrors of the loss of so many men on that day and kept in touch with some of the survivors of LST 523 over the years. Tony was most helpful in providing information for the 300th website relating to the LST 523 story. Condolences from the men of the 300th and their families to Tony's family.

Willie Hein attends the Tyler reunion.

Following his attendance at the Tyler reunion, Willie Hein asked his wife to write a note updating others of the 300th on how he is doing. The following is a summary of that note.

Willie is now 87 years old and had good health until he was diagnosed more than a year ago with heart health issues. In November 2009, Willie had heart surgery and has been improving ever since. He drives his tractor and works with his cattle. We have been married 63 years and still live in the same house since 1947. Willie was really happy to see the photos that had Bill McAlexander in them. The two of them went into the Army on the same day and were in the same squad. Recently, Willie received his award for being in the American Legion for 65 years being the first in his American Legion unit to receive this award.

Web Site Update

The Tyler reunion in October produced a substantial amount of material for the 300th website. Barry Renfro, son of Thomas Renfro of the 300th, arrived at the Tyler reunion (his first) with two large albums of photos which his father had taken or collected during his time with the 300th. Nearly 900 photos were scanned with about 300 of the photos now up on the website. These photos are all of particular historic value because they were taken and developed during the European campaign. Many of the photos are not of great quality because they were developed and printed in the field where it was nearly impossible to have sterile darkroom conditions. There was a war going on after all.

Willie Hein and his family attended the Tyler reunion in October and brought with them a photo album of the 300th and World War II. The story of how he got the film from the United States to Europe and how the photos were developed may be a story to be told later. The end result is about 200 photos of excellent quality never before published. What makes these photos of even more important is that Willie has identified the photos; people, location, activity, etc.

The two sets of photographs are now up on the website. Check them out in the Photo Gallery, Thomas Renfro Photographs and Willie Hein Photographs.

Ben L. White recalls his 300th experiences

Brad and Jan received a telephone call a while back from 300th veteran Ben L. White. He talked about his wartime experiences and that he wished he could go to the reunions but had been unable to do so for several years. Brad and Jan encouraged him to write down some of his recollections and send them for inclusion on the 300th website.

Ben did even better than that. He called back to say he was sending some of his recollections and sure enough a few days later came two video tapes with about two hours of Ben sitting in front of a videocam recording his stories. The tapes contain 25 separate recording sessions over what appears to be at least two or three days. At one point he turned the videocam to the window to show the snowstorm that was outside his Texas home.

Brad and Jan have their work cut out for them as they will transcribe several of Ben's recollections for inclusion on the website.

Don Richter remembers his buddy Hester Hawkins of the 300th

Gary Butler, nephew of Hester Hawkins, now a resident of Munich, Germany has contacted me by e-mail. He seems eager to hear all about his Uncle Hester and I have tried in the past to locate Hester at Alexandria, La., where he hailed from. Gary told me that Hester Hawkins moved to California soon after WWII and that he died at Lake Havasu City, AZ, in 2005.

Hi Gary Butler,

I was really happy to receive your e-mail concerning your uncle Hester M. Hawkins with whom I served during World War II in Company B, 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. It has been my pleasure late in my life to share with family of men with whom I served information that I recall about loved ones. It is so good to have these contacts with families of my old 300th buddies.

I really do remember your Uncle Hester very well as we served together from Camp White, Oregon all the way through Fourth Corps maneuvers on Oregon High Desert, to Camp Shanks, NJ. Then we crossed the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary to Scotland and spent about six months in England. Then it was over to the Normandy Beachhead, across France passing through recently liberated Paris, into Belgium where we spent better part of five months. Then it was into Germany with the First Army into the Ruhr Area and then being transferred to the Third Army traveling in convoy for about three days to join General Patton in Bavaria ending the war just a few miles short of the Austria/Czech borders in sight of the snow covered Alps.

We heard of the horror of the sinking of the ship with the Second Wave before we went across with the Third Wave safely. Upon setting up the Personnel Office on the beachhead we found out of the great loss of our Company B Third Platoon with Hester Hawkins and Charles Olive, the only men who returned to the Third Squad safely. Hester and I served together on the beachhead, during the breakout at St. Lo, then moving quickly across France and on to Belgium where we set up an Engineer Dump. Christmas Eve 1944 was really tough for men of Company A & B that had been given a mission to set up road blocks and mine bridges for destruction. The enemy had sort of overrun us before we were able to destroy the bridges and manage to get back to our friendly troops with a great Christmas present of us all to our Battalion Commander.

So from January 1945 until leaving the 300th in August 1945, I was with Personnel and not with Third Squad Third Platoon along with Hester. I do remember Hester Hawkins as a very handsome man who you might call a real "Lady's Man" and I recall him telling us stories of being District Manager of Newspaper Distribution in Louisiana before going into the army. He seemed to love his Ford automobile used in his work and in dating. He had a way with some girls that he met while serving with the 300th also.