James L. Huntley
James L. Huntley
C Company, 394th IR
Born James Lowell Huntley on 30 June 1925 in Bessemer Michigan. His childhood was spent during the Great Depression in Bessemer MI, enjoying the outdoors with his .22 rifle and helping around the farm with the animals. His mother and father barely scraped by to feed the family and pay the bills.James was a busy boy and learned to work hard in helping his father with the chores and taking on jobs such as picking strawberries and potatoes, and running a paper route. He would work and then go out into the woods, where he enjoyed spending most of his time. He learned to fly as a young man and yearned to spend just as much time in the clouds.
Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his daughter Terri in 1994 explaining his military experience:
“You wanted to know where I was in ‘WWII’. At times I was so close to the ground I was competing with the ants for space. I did become an expert on European soil. I dug some of the deepest foxholes. I bet the Germans who had to fill them up sure hated me. But, to be serious about this, I was very lucky. Not because of me but most of the credit should go to the SNAFU operation of the government. Now this is the (50th) anniversary [This was written back in 1994 timeframe] of the invasion, it is hard to still think of all the fats because they happened so fast and some experiences you want to forget about.
As you know this is much in advance of the information I have been sending you. Some dates and places I do not remember anymore so please bear with me.
Well it started for me when I was still in high school. The war with Japan had already started. The United States was not at war with Germany as of yet but we knew that it was going to happen. Some recruiter met us in school and those who wanted to agreed to go to a military sponsored school at Antigo WI where we were trained in Navigation and Meteorology for preparation for the Air Force. This started three days after I left High School. When the war started with Germany the program stopped and when this happened I had already signed up for the service in Hurley WI. I then had to have it transferred to Racine WI where I moved to because my folks were there.
I had signed up for the Air Force because I could already fly and at that age I was all hot to go. The Army had different plans for me. I was sent to Fort Sheridan. At that time they checked us in ad they gave us our physicals and etc. They then sent us home to wait because all areas were filled and there was no place to keep us.
Later I was called back to report in. It was standard procedure to qualify with a rifle and this was a snap as I lived with a rifle most of my life. I then had to take some physical test and then I was transferred to a cam outside of Little Rock AK. I complained that this was not that Air Force. They agreed and then told me I had just qualified for being a sniper, so there. Now to start on a new adventure.
Now Here was a blessing in disguise that I was not aware of and did not appreciate until later. When my training was over I was sent to New York to be shipped over seas. We were being sent on the Queen Mary. More delays in the loading and we were held back in New York. When we were finally set to go, the Queen Mary’s speed was too much to be in a convoy so it was scheduled to go it alone because at that time it could outrun any submarine but it had to go the far northern route which took us through the far north Atlantic out of the regular shipping lanes.
The only deep water port that was available at that time was in Scotland. Here we were all unloaded and placed on railroad cars which were held up for days with all the windows blacked out so that any spies would not know how many of us there were. We were later shipped through Scotland and then the complete length of England. Again we were held p with more delays before we were scheduled to cross the channel.
Now, earlier I mentioned about a blessing. Well, all the delays saved us from going across the channel on D-Day. The men that crossed the channel on D-Day were trained in the states for about two years. There were sent to England and were trained there for over a year just for this landing. To me, the landing the Americans took was wrong. About one and a half miles down the coast there were no cliffs and it did not have the German defense set up strong there. On well, I am not the General so what can I say?
My training was only fifteen weeks and we were given the nickname “Battle Babies”. Now, they figured that the Germans would fight more desperate as they were pushed back to the German border and that was saved for us. We would then make the push to the end, through France, Belgium, and then Germany itself.
What day we got to cross the channel, I do not know. We did cross on a landing craft, one that the front drops down and you are left I waist deep water. It was a little easier because we were not carrying all the weight. You see, we had no rifles or ammo as yet. Its hard to imagine that our country would send you without weapons. We had to wait for days until they brought us some rifles, which by the way were old, used ones. We were staying in a barn and worked on the rifles at night and had to get them in firing order before we could sleep because the next day we were moving out. We were then given only a half dozen clips of ammunition, some K rations and started in combat. Now I am sure I was not the only one that had the feeling, what will go wrong next.
I was assigned to C Company of the 394th Regiment of the 99th Division of the 1st Army. Now try and find that on a dark night in the middle of a foreign country. Anyways, I did an was informed that their sniper and first scout were killed that that was what my new duties were. OK, I f that was it I would be on my won most of the time. This suited me as I felt I could do better alone rather then to follow orders from someone else. After all, it was my ass I had to take care of. Although I was with a squad, I was the sniper for the whole platoon and most of the time, the fist scout.
When you are fist scout, you go out in front and look for the best and most safe way for the platoon and then to spot the enemy. Then you signal the second scout who is a little ways behind you and then he heads back and lets the main group know and then they set up their defense. Now it is up to you to get your rear end back or to start sniping if you can get into some hidden position. Simple procedure and you do learn it very quickly. You drop and at the same time grab your entrenching tool and start pushing dirt up I the front to protect yourself from any billets when the shooting started. One reason they had me as a scout is that I could distinguish anything that was camouflage and if I had to I would shoot. Being in the woods and hunting as much as I did I would not that the normal pathways in waling or moving around and by this the rest of my squad would follow and we never walk where any mines were buried. Other squads on both sides of us had their own leader and many were hurt by using the obvious path.
Lunch was a can of cheese, some nasty crackers, smokes and sometimes a chocolate bar. Now we lived on the K rations everyday for I know at least six months. We would get a weeks supply at a time and had to carry it with us. But this alone you can believe me when I say that war was hell!
It was a good month or more when one day I was called to the General Headquarters and was presented with the newest and best sniper rifles that this country made. I ate, slept and wen to the bathroom with that rifle, now that’s even more then what you would do with a new lover.
At times in a month you could advance about 20 miles. The fighting would be so violent other times with small towns the 394th did seem to advance at a good rate. Being a youngster and maybe more reckless, we had skirmishes with German Patrols. We would take towns at night and do stupid things just like teenagers would do without thinking. Hitler would brag about how well trained and disciplined his troops were. IT was what we used against them. An example, in the landing a German tank could have wiped out the Americans but no officer was around to give the order so they never fired a round. An American would have had that tank used for the defense of the beach. Hitler was sleeping and no one would dare wake him up so no defensive orders were given. All the Americans could have dies on that beach if they would have reacted within the fist couple of hours. Lucky for the Americans. Days later, Rommel of the German army pushed a spearhead between the American and British forces but the American forces were too well established by then.
The countryside was loaded with hedgerows. Some so thick, tanks could not get through them. The Germans set up machine gun nests where they could hold down a platoon of men. Then it was my job to clear it. A German machine gun crew was three persons. The gunner, his second gunner who also helped feed the ammo and an ammo carrier. Each had his rank and again this was what I was taught how to use it against them. I got into the hedgerow at a position that when I shot the gunner he would fall onto the second gunner. Before they could push his body out of the way it gave me time to sight in on the second gunner. The ammo carrier would never dare to grab he gun first and start shooting, he was outranked. The last one to be shot would be the ammo carrier. Not one of our men got hurt and I was such a hero. What a pile of bullshit. I was scared stiff. If I had figured wrong or have had missed my shots, I would have been blown away. Sniping is not what you see in so many movies. Being up in trees or in towers or rooftops. There are places where you cannot back away from. If you want to live you had to be able to move around.
Well it happened, the weather got cold and winter was so bad that the fighting slowed and the basic was when the patrols went out to check on the enemy. When ever we could we would try to improve our foxhole. We would pile anything on top to make a roof and then steal gasoline, put it in a can, fill it with dirt then burn it to get some heat to keep warm. Our long wool coats, leather boots, pants and other parts were wet from the snow and would freeze so that we could hardly walk. One day we cut the bottoms off that damn wool coat. The soot from the burning gasoline and dirt coated our faces and hands. Since the foxholes were not big enough to stand in, it was a real bitch to try and wash yourself. Some men never did and without any change of clothes you can imagine after weeks of this how we looked and smelt. Our K rations would be dumped in a pile out in the snot and you had to fight each other for your share. Some of the men liked the lunch better and grabbed their share just of these. The last guy to get his would have to eat what was left.
One day we were loaded onto trucks and they brought us to some town in Belgium. Here we could take a bath whit hot water and soap. We were given a haircut, shaved and were given clean clothes. They even gave us a hot cooked meal. No we were really flying high and then they loaded us back into the trucks and brought back to our foxholes. Well at least this was a little lift for our moral. While we were in town we got ot know what Buzz-bomb alley was really like. Up on the line we would see them fly over but in the town the engines would cut off and boy you had better be under a lot of cover because that bomb was on its way down.
The Germans did not have it much better except they would get hot potato soup. They had big kettles that horses would pull around and they would give their men a chunk of dark bred and soup. I would take one man with me and we would patrol by their area at night to keep tabs on them. They had tents to sleep in and their version of jeeps. We would stick our knife in the gas tanks and let them drain. This way they knew we were around. Acting like teenagers again!
The weather was bad, not warm enough for the snow to melt and yet it was warm enough to create a fog. We were supposed to have white snowsuits so that it would be harder for the Germans to see us but they never made it. We had an officer that went to this Belgium town and asked the people to give up their sheets so we could cover ourselves and blend into the snow and fog. He promised that they would all be repaid. When the war was over, he brought in a whole shipment from the states and returned it to all of the people in that town. That really made the news.
When the weather let up a little, Germany launched its largest offensive. This is not by my feelings but by all government total figures. Men who fought through North Africa, Sicily and Normandy said it was the heaviest they had ever experienced. We were getting close to their borders and it was not or never. For hours a saturation barrage of all calibers of mortars, artillery and multi-barreled rocket projectors plastered the entire regimental front. Followed by their Panzer Tanks and their 12th Division and the crack SS troops. The 394th got hit full blast. They were trying to drive a wedge between C and B Company. This was the start of the “Bulge”.
We held our position. Our mortar legs were braced into the sidewalls of our foxholes so that the shells would land almost on our own position and the German tanks and soldiers backed away and C held. Unfortunately the other companies retreated and then C and B Company were surrounded. Under this unrelenting attack, B Company did get wiped out. When it was dark, C Company had to make its way out. There were no more supplies to fight with. German bullets would nit fit in our buns so we had to back up. The German push was halted when all the other forces reorganized and whit supplies we were setting up a new line of defense. With that was left of C company we dug in by a town called Elsenborn in Belgium.
Now, my job became more of a challenge. While waiting for the weather to break I would be sent out to eliminate any ranking German officer I could. One I remember in particular was a small town about the size of Evergreen CO. I was up on the side of a hill looking down. I could see the whole town. There was a German command car parked outside of one of the buildings. They had a guard outside so I knew someone of importance was there. So not to get a good shot at him. There was a church tower close to me and this turned out to be perfect. I would shoot and hit the church bell which everyone in the town would hear. I would do this exactly every ten minutes. People would clear the streets and then would come out again. IN ten minutes I would hit the bell again and the people would go for cover. I would change positions so as not to be picked up. The Germans would send up a few men to try and locate me and I would move again. Once the people were used to the every ten-minute shot I would change to five minutes. I kept this up most of the day working on their nerves and it worked very well. They knew that the Americans were close and if II wanted to I could pick anyone off but I wanted to harass them. Finally the pressure built up enough that the officers in the building thought it would be better to move back to a safer area. Naturally they would not go toward where our army was so they have one other way out and that was where I was waiting
The snow melted and we could move forward. We would find not only American bodies but also German and dead animals. They were killed in the winter and now were starting to show when the snow thawed. The Americans had re-taken the famous Siegfried Line and then we had re-taken the Ardennes.
We were moving quite fast and then on day some smart-ass officer wanted us to line up and with him in front so that he could walk like a conquering hero, into a small town by Malmedy. I had scouted this town the day before and white flags of surrender were flying from all the windows. After what we had already gone through, I would not even trust the pope. Bit he had on his nice clean uniform and brass bars and felt so proud that he just had to strut somewhere. I kept my squad on the left flank and we approached through a cemetery. When this officer and his men were about a block from the towns edge, all hell broke loose. Tanks and machine guns were hidden in between the buildings and this officer had most of his men walking in an open road. They all got hit bad. My group was in between the tombstones and had dug in cover. We were pinned down all day with no sign of help. Some British Lancaster Bombers were in the area and our radioman tried to contact them. They continued to fly off out of sight and I thought we better dig deeper and prepare for one hell of a night and then when it was dark pull back into more cover. All of a sudden, low to the ground, here came the Lancaster bombers and they ripped the center of that town out. The dust did not have time to settle and our squad hit the first buildings and we go in and had some cover. From then it was house-to-house fighting. When you do this one man covers while the other runs and breaks the door or whatever to get into the house. I ran up to the door of a house I couldn’t break into and the next thing I knew, my backup pushed me and I fell. I got up and ran to the back of the house. The Germans were still putting up a good fight and shooting down the streets at us with machine gun and sniper fire.
I got into the house from the rear and started to go slowly from room to room to see if any Germans were hiding in there. I heard someone moaning fro the front of the house and then I seen a bullet hold in the front door. I new it had to be my backup man and when he pushed me out of the way a German sniper got him. The bullet took part of his lower jaw off. Without thinking, I charged ahead to unlock the door from the inside and pull my backup in and I forgot to check a side room. A German soldier was there and hit me in the face with the butt of his rifle. I felt like he almost took my head off. I went down and dropped my rifle and when he came to hit me again the boning knife I carried in my boot was the only thing I could grab. One upward thrust and a twist and that thing six-inch blade did it. He just stopped and stared for a moment and then dropped.
I got my backup in the building and the medic got to him and started to fix him up. I had one hell of a headache but I had to keep going. The mark on my lip still reminds me of that mistake. It was a positive fact, that German would never have a kid. Both were sent back to the field hospital.
My Sgt was shot so I was to take over the squad. Now, I am proud of the fact that when I did, I never lost a man. My God I forgot, and I should rework that statement because what happened that nice lieutenant came up and started to really give orders. We had a guy named Smitty who was from the hills of VA. He did not like him and put his rifle in the lieutenant’s belly and marched him back to the field headquarters. We never say Smitty again. The medics said that he cracked up and they were going to take hi off the front line. I am certain that the lieutenant could have used on of the breakfast K rations, which contained the khaki colored paper. We never saw him again either.
We were on a big rush now to get across the Rhine River and the Lunderndorff Bridge at Remagen before the Germans could get their troops across the bridge and blow it up as usual. We hit towns in the middle of the night. We would catch them sleeping and at times never fired a shot. We took one town so fast that we were all over it and caught some Germans in bed with women before they knew what happened. Now the ones that had women, we thought it was a big joke and would not let the Germans put on their pants and took them as prisoners just with their shirts one. That sort of deflated their ego, plus other things.
We would cut all telephone lines so they could not notify the next town and then we would get there and try to surprise them. One day we thought we did an excellent job when we noticed one German soldier slipped past us. He was running down along side of a hedgerow when one of the officers saw me with the sniper rifle and ordered to stop him before he could get to the next town. Bu this time the German was a good six hundred yards away. A running target is not so easy to hit but he was staying close to the hedgerow and that would help. I sat down and I think I said a little prayer, don’t let me miss now. I set my sights a little higher and then for good measure I aimed about a half body length over his head. I knew the trajectory of the bullet would be starting to drop so I planed to hit him in the biggest area, his back. After I squeezed the trigger, it seemed like forever and then we seen his helmet fly off. My shot was a little off. I hit him in the head instead and everyone thought I planned it that way so I just agreed and let the whole thing drop. At least we hit the next town by surprise and non of our men were hurt.
About this time, General Patton made his wild push with tanks into the German area. They opened their lines and let him rush through and when the supply trucks could not keep up and he ran out of gas, they closed the pocket. The Air Force C47 would fly low and try to drop the drums of fuel to him but when they hit the ground the would burst so this didn’t do any good. Well, we were designate to go in and open the pocket so that fuel would get to him and the damn fool could get out. The push was then go get across the Rhine River and close in on the last of the German army. The Remagen Bridge was the goal to get to. The Germans had it all aired to blow up but one lucky artillery shell cut the wires. The Germans tried to blow it up and when that did not work they were shelling it with artillery and mortars. They also tried to use dive-bombers. By the records, shells were hitting the bridge every 30 seconds. I go our men across while the bridge was still standing and under fire. We made it to a high bank on the opposide side.
The bridge later collapsed and the US had to put up a rubber pontoon bridge to get supplies to us and then later tanks to back us up. It was up on that high ridge when a German mortar shell hit by me. I did not have my foxhole dug deep enough yet and when the shrapnel flew past, it tore up everything around. Again, I was lucky and only received a small piece in my left hand. Well, our next big town was Honnigen.
Honnigen was no walkaway battle. It took days to take it. It was loaded with snipers so we had a duel going all the time. Believe it or not, K company came to back us up. Then the push for the Ruhr Valley. This was a desperate battle of desperate men. There was no escape for the German army at that place. The blind fanaticism that we were up against was unbelievable. So there was no choice but to kill them. They fought until they used their last bullet before they would surrender. When it was over, we got out over 7000 prisoners of war. Some were Americans that were taken prisoners during the Bulge. It was while clearing out this camp that I walked around a corner and into a German officer. I was still loading my gun when he drew his pistol to shoot. Without thinking I grabbed a grenade that I had taped to my jacked and threw it. I did not realize that it was a phosphorus one and not the fragment one that I intended. He fell forward when the grenade landed and it really burnt him up badly. The German luger pistol that I have is the one that I took from him. It got burnt by the phosphorus but it was something that I always will keep. Memories you know.
We almost lost it one day when we felt that we could do anything. While approaching a big farm house we saw a cow and one of the men said lets kill it and we all can have steaks. One of the men in our squad, his name was Amy. He was a hamburger cook before he got into the service and se he would cook it up if we could butcher it. Well, forget the K ration, tonight we eat! The cow was shot and some of the men had their knives out and only steak was on our minds. When the door on the barn rolled open, here was a big tiger tank with its tank gun and machine guns aimed at us. Well, we were careless for a moment and we dropped our guard for the thoughts of a steak. Nothing in the world could have scattered us faster than it did. We found cover off to the side of the open door where the tank guns couldn’t reach us. They did not want to come out in the open of our fire could hit them. What a standoff. Again the radio, we had seen four P47s in the area and we called for help. We knew that they would just love to know what we had to offer. They circled and two started to come down, the first with its guns staffing and the seconds dropped a bomb. That barn just disappeared. We were then told to hold up for a few days for a rest and until the other units caught up with us. Yes, we did get our steaks plus we found some canned cherries in one of the houses.
Finally, with the Ruhr valley pocket surrender we had to head for the Danube. I remember taking the town of Moosberg where thousands of American, Russian, and Polish prisoners were being held. I was near the town of Velden, within sight of the Bavarian Alps, when we received word that the war had ended. Within Three days we were shipped out of Germany and back to France. They felt that we still held to much hatred for the Germans and there could be problems.
My rifle was still high priority and general headquarters made me turn it in and they gave me a carbine to carry. We were sent to Cherbourg in France to wait for our shipping orders to go back to the states. By this time, Americans were stationed in England for several years and under these kinds of conditions many of them married English women. When it came time to ship for home, there was a problem that the US government had to take on to get all these war brides to the states.
Well, the ships that were to bring us back were then sent to England and loaded up with the war brides and this left us in France. To keep the men from getting upset, they would give you passes to anywhere that was safe to travel. I went to Paris, southern France and the French Riviera many times as well as Switzerland and Monaco.
One day we got word that a ship would be in the harbor to pick some of us up. I felt lucky when my name was called and once I was on board that feeling changed. We were loaded on a liberty ship called the General Brooks. This was one of those many ships that Kaiser put together in a hurry to carry troops and supplies. IT took us over three weeks to get back to New York and it was like riding on a cork.
There were no bands or ticker tape parades. But the Salvation Army had a three piece deal and they gave us a doughnut. We were sent to an Army camp where they gave us a steak and the next day I was sent to Camp McCoy in north west WI. We were given our discharges and the medals that we had earned. A train was leaving for southern WI in a half hour. It was the old “400”. I was on it and I go off in Sturtevant where my folks picked me up. It was all over.
I feel that the bringing up in the woods that I had was one thing that saved my skin. My cousin Bud and a close school chum Tano Pelto were both killed in Germany. I have had no regrets for anything I ever did during the war. These are just some of the tings that happened. I did not feel that there was much fun in the whole thing. When I talk with someone who has shared the same experiences we can see some of the humor that happened, but just a little.”