Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sergeant Robert Gober Burton’s letter home from Germany Dec. 26, 1918

 Edited by Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard.

 

A composite image of a Soldier of the Georgia National Guard’s 151st Machine Gun Battalion in Bad Bodendorf Germany in 1918
and the same street in 2018. Photo by Daniel Nichols.

Kripp Germany[1]

December 26, 1918

My own dear mother,

Well, it is the day after Xmas, and all is quiet along the Rhine tonight. I spent a very nice Xmas and enjoyed myself lots better than I did last year.

Our mess (the Sgts) had quite a nice dinner. We had light wine as an appetizer, soup, chicken, chicken soup, dressing, fried rabbit, potatoes, apple sauce, tapioca pudding, coffee and cigars. I think that considering everything it was quite a nice dinner. We have our mess in a pretty villa overlooking the Rhine. We have plates, cups, saucers, silver knives forks and spoons that the lady that owns the house kindly lent to us. We do not sleep here but down the street in another villa that is just as pretty as the one in which we have our mess.

The man that lives where I am staying is certainly nice to us. Last night he and his wife brought us in an Xmas tree all lighted up with candles and decorated up with the things that go on a Xmas tree. There are no children here so he must have fixed just for us. There are eight of us that sleep here. In former days he was an artist, and his sketches are on the walls. They are good too. Some of his paintings of the Rhine in winter are great. He and his wife can’t seem to do enough for us.

Post card sent home by Robert Gober Burton from Kripp Germany Dec 21, 1918. Georgia National Guard archives.


I suppose that you had a big celebration this year. If not, why not? The war is over, and the world has been made safe for the democrats. I wasn’t killed and Frank[2] wasn’t called up, there is lots to be thankful for.

I reckon that by now you have gotten some of my letters written since the armistice was signed. If you haven’t, you should have for I have written you lots of them. Lots more than I have received.

Tell Frank that I haven’t forgotten about that car he was going to send up for us to use. I think that I will spend all of my money in buying gasoline. I sho do mean to have a big time.

There is a rumor out here that we start for home on Jan 10 and that the Rainbow parades in Washington Feb 22. [3] I don’t hold out any false hopes, however. That is rumor, but I don’t think that we will be over here so very much longer. So little mother be patient and your war-boy will be home before long a very peace-loving citizen of the United States of America.

The Y gave us an Xmas tree yesterday and each of us got some smoking tobacco, chocolate and cookies. They were certainly appreciated. Our Christmas boxes haven’t come in yet, but we are expecting them every day. I had about as soon have a letter from home as the box. When I have received the box, I will write Miss Griffin again and thank her for this candy. I certainly do appreciate her sending it.

I have written all the children a card wishing them the merriest of Xmas and the most prosperous of New Years.

Have you received the souvenirs I sent home? I will have quite a collection. Save the letters and I will explain them all when I get home. There are lots of things interesting that I can’t write but can tell you all about.

I am looking for a long, long letter. My love to Ida and Toombs.[4]

Your ever devoted Son,

Gober

 


[1] On November 17, 1918, the 151st Machine Gun Battalion, part of the 42nd Division, was designated to take part in the American Army of Occupation. Taking up the march November 20, the 151st reached Luxembourg November 23 and entered Germany on December 3. The 151st arrived in Kripp Germany December 20 and assumed occupation of Kripp and nearby Bad Bodendorf.

[2] Franklin Fletcher Burton, Robert’s older brother was born in 1881 and was idolized by his younger brother for his flashy car and employment as a wholesale peanut buyer. Unbeknownst to Robert, Frank died of Spanish Influenza Dec, 19, 1918 and they news had not yet reached him when Robert composed this letter.

 [3] Ultimately, the 151st did not return to the United States until April 26, 1919 arriving in Hoboken, N.J. aboard the U.S.S. Minnesota. By May 15, all of the Soldiers of the 151st had been discharged at Camp Gordon, Ga. and were on the final leg of their journey home.

[4] Burton’s sister Ida was married to Robert Toombs. They lived in Atlanta until 1920 when they moved in with the Burton family in Monroe, Ga. Ida outlived all the Burton siblings and died in 1962, three years after Robert Gober Burton.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas in Combat: A Review of GA. National Guard Deployments 1916-2021

By Major William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

 

Citizen Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard celebrate Christmas overseas in 1918 and 2018. Right photo by 1st Lt. Leland White.

For more than a century, Citizen Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard have mobilized in support of operations at home and abroad. The separation of deployment for service members and their families can be much more difficult during the holiday season, a time when families tend to gather to celebrate. This year, nearly 650 of Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers and Airmen are deployed around the world. In performing their duty, these service members are weaving their own thread in the tapestry of service which links them with past generations of Guardsmen.


Mexican Border Service, 1916

In Jun 1916, more than 3,600 Georgia National Guard Soldiers were called to active duty following unrest on the Mexican Border. Deployed to El Paso in October, these Soldiers would pass Christmas guarding the border from outposts scattered from Yselta Texas to lonely stations in New Mexico. Returning in March 1917, these Guardsmen remained in active service and were immediately summoned to training camps for premobilization training for World War I.[1]

 

Soldiers of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment pose for this Christmas card in El Paso, Texas in 1916. Company F
would serve in WWI as Company A, 151st Machine Gun Battalion and in World War II as Service Company, 121st Infantry Regiment.
Photo from the 1st Lt. Vivian Roberts collection courtesy of Tonie Maxwell.

This Christmas card from World War I
depicts Santa Claus, Uncle Sam and an
American dough boy.
World War I


In the summer of 1917, the three Macon-based companies of the Georgia National Guard’s 2nd Infantry Regiment formed the 151st Machine Gun Company. Dispatched to France with the 42nd Infantry Division in 1917, they would spend Christmas 1917 in France, and after participating in the major campaigns of 1918 spent the following Christmas on occupation duty in Kripp, Germany.[2]

The balance of the Georgia National Guard trained with the 31st Division at Camp Wheeler near Macon until mobilizing for France in October 1918. Arriving too late to take part as organic units in combat operations, Georgia’s Guard units nevertheless spent Christmas in France before rotating home in 1919.

 

The Georgia Air National Guard in World War II

Formed in 1941, the Georgia National Guard’s 128th Observation Squadron performed patrol duty from New Orleans as part of the 26th Antisubmarine Wing over Christmas 1942.[3] Christmas 1943 found the unit stationed at MacDill Field in Florida where the Guardsmen formed a cadre of the 483rd Bombardment Group and 818th Bombardment Squadron. The following year the 843rd was assigned to the 15th Air Force in Europe where the 818th was redesignated the 840th Bombardment Squadron. Flying B-17s, the 840th served in the skies over Europe and was rotated home in September 1945.[4]

Georgia National Guardsmen of the 840th Bombardment Squadron observe Christmas in Italy in 1944. Georgia National Guard Archives.

The Georgia Army National Guard in The Pacific Theater of World War II

When it arrived in Port Moresby, New Guinea in May 1942, the 101st Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, formerly the 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry, Ga. National Guard, was the only American combat unit on the Island.[5] Through Christmas 1943, the 101st provided air defense over five airdromes near Port Moresby and were a key element in the allied victories in Papua and New Guinea. For its actions, the 101st received the Presidential Unit Citation.[6] Meanwhile, the 214th Field Artillery Group, which was formed from the Georgia National Guard’s 264th Coast Artillery Battalion and 3rd Battalion 122nd Infantry in 1940, provided air defense over Henderson Field, Guadalcanal in 1942.[7]

The 214th Field Artillery Regiment and 101st Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
Photo by  Capt. William Carraway

The lineage of these Georgia National Guard units who fought in the Pacific Theater are preserved today in the 1st Battalion, 214th Field Artillery; 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion and 878th Engineer Battalion.

 

The European Theater of World War II

Having waded ashore Omaha and Utah Beaches in Normandy France from June to August 1944, seven battalions of Georgia National Guard Soldiers spent Christmas engaged in the Ardennes following a surprise German counterattack remembered today as the Battle of the Bulge.


945th Field Artillery Battalion 

When the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, the 945th Field Artillery Battalion was engaged with the IIX Corps, 3rd Army in the Lorraine Campaign near Nancy. In action throughout December, the battalion had taken severe casualties with just 72 men remaining for duty in Battery C.[8] On December 19, Lt. Gen. George Patton ordered the XII Corps to move via Luxembourg to the Ardennes. The 945th, still recovering from the counterbattery fire of December 18, did not get started until the next day. Due to the heavy snow and unbearable cold, the route of march was torturous and delayed. A Soldier in the 945th recalled that the mud froze to their boots and that men clustered to ride on the hoods of M5 tractors in order to stay warm. [9]

On Christmas Eve, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton distributed these personalized messages
 to the Soldiers of the 3rd Army including members of the Georgia Army National Guard’s
945th Field Artillery Battalion. Georgia National Guard Archives
The 3rd Army was moving to first stabilize the German penetration, then counterattack.[10] The American counterattack brought with it 108 artillery battalions with nearly 1,300 guns. The guns of the 945th FAB went into action December 23 in Luxembourg targeting roads, bridges and enemy counterbattery fire. The next day, the 945th fired 549 high explosive rounds and 17 white phosphorous rounds. [11] That evening, Patton distributed a personal message and prayer written by Chaplain James O’Neill to the Soldiers of the 3rd Army.

On Christmas Day, the Soldiers of the 945th received turkey dinner. Patton circulated through the divisions of the 3rd Army congratulating the men for their efforts. He subsequently wrote that “No other Army in the world except the American could have done such a thing.”

 

179th Field Artillery Battalion[12] 

Also moving out with the 3rd Army on December 20 was the 179th Field Artillery Battalion, a Georgia Guard unit which had been based in Atlanta prior to the start of the War. Moving with the 4th Armored Division, the 179th arrived in Nagen, Belgium where the Georgia Guardsmen delivered their first salvos into German flank positions on December 23, 1944. From their firing position, the 179th Field Artillery Battalion supported the 26th Division and would continue to do so through Christmas. In January, the 179th, moving with the 4th Armored Division advanced to Bastogne to relieve the encircled 101st Airborne Division.

A cartoon depiction of the rapid mobilization of the Georgia National Guard’s 179th Field Artillery Battalion and 4th Armor Division to the Ardennes
in December 1944 as drawn by a Soldier of the 179th.


 121st Infantry Regiment - 1944

The 121st Infantry Regiment spent November and December in the bloody Hurtgen Forest, an experience one Gray Bonnet Soldier recalled as “hell with icicles” During the fighting, Staff Sgt. John Minick led an element of Soldiers through a minefield, silenced an enemy machine gun, killed 20 Germans and captured 10 before he was killed by a mine explosion. For his valorous actions, Minnick posthumously received the Medal of Honor.[13]

In late December, the objective of the 121st Infantry Regiment was the town of Obermaubach, east of Hurtgen. Near Obermaubach was a dam on the Roer River. If the Germans destroyed the dam the resulting flood would hamper 1st Army efforts to cross.[14]

The 121st attack jumped off on Dec. 22, 1944. Company B, under command of Capt. William McKenna achieved early success, driving 300 yards through enemy mortar and machine gun fire. Company C gained a foothold in the town and the 121st began clearing operations. An enemy sniper felled Maj. Joseph Johnston, commander of 1st Battalion but he refused medical evacuation until the engagement was decided.[15]

Capt. William McKenna

Christmas Eve and Christmas came with the infantry still heavily engaged. Company F cleared four bunkers while Soldiers of Company K knocked out two enemy strong points and cleared an approach for armor forces to move forward in support.

Stories of individual heroism were replete during the Christmas Day attack of the 121st against Obermaubach. Technical Sgt. Raymond Kommer moved out ahead of his squad which had been pinned down by machine gun fire. Incredibly, Kommer managed to crawl within arms-reach of the enemy machine gun position. When the enemy gunner paused to reload, Kommer reached into the machine gun nest and unceremoniously pulled the gun right out of the gunner’s hands.[16]

While leading Company B, Capt. McKenna low crawled through enemy minefields within sight of enemy positions and called in artillery fire. He remained in an exposed position calling in targets before machine gun fire compelled him to return to his men. Still, he moved from foxhole to foxhole encouraging his Soldiers through personal example. During the attack that followed, McKenna was killed by small arms fire.[17]

 

118th Field Artillery Battalion

The Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Battalion
went into position near Malmedy, Belgium just before Christmas 1944
.
On December 16, 1944, the Soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field
Artillery Battalion, part of the 30th Infantry Division, were in Langweiler, Germany when they received the order to be prepared to mobilize following the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. Hastily loading personnel, equipment, and Christmas souvenirs onto trucks, the battalion moved out of Langweiler at 8:00 p.m. into darkness and swirling snow.[18] The vehicle column endured a night attack by the Luftwaffe the next morning and by December 18, the 118th was passing through Malmedy. Going into position near the town of Spa, Belgium, the Soldiers would soon find themselves firing at their old nemeses from Mortain, the 1st SS Panzer Division.[19] The resolve of the Soldiers was strengthened after learning of the American Soldiers who had been ambushed and murdered along the road in Malmedy through which they had passed just two days previous.

On December 19, the 118th batteries received fire missions and began firing at the rate of one round per minute against the advancing German vanguard. Presently, the batteries were ordered to increase their rate of fire to two rounds per minute. This rate of fire was sustained until the guns became red hot and the falling snows sizzled on tubes. Soldiers of Service Battery were hard pressed to keep up with the ammunition requirements of the line batteries and were compelled to race about on steep, icy roads bringing ammunition forward.

Over the next several days, the 118th fought the Germans and the elements with freezing cold temperatures and low clouds preventing American aircraft from flying over the lines. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the clouds lifted, and allied aircraft were soon bombing German positions and strafing supply lines.

The fighting continued in earnest on Christmas and the Soldiers had to rotate from their positions to enjoy their turkey dinner. From December 19 to 25, the battalion fired approximately 20,000 rounds.[20] They would continue to fire with deadly effect into the New Year and halfway through January before the Allies began to push the Germans back.

 

230th Field Artillery Battalion

Happy Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard’s
230th Field Artillery Battalion receive
Christmas packages from home Dec. 24,
1944 near Spa, Belgium

Like its sister battalion, the 118th, the Georgia Guard’s 230th Field Artillery Battalion received an urgent alert to move while stationed at Langendorf, Germany.[21] Shortly before midnight December 17, the battalion abandoned their comfortable houses with decorated fir trees and began the movement to the Ardennes. Along the route, the 230th experienced the same Luftwaffe attacks as related by the Soldiers of the 118th. Moving south from Aachen, the 230th established firing positions near Malmedy. Although in proximity to the 118th the 230th did not receive the same quantity of fire due to the terrain of the valley in which they were emplaced. Nevertheless, the guns of the 230th supported the 120th Infantry Regiment was positioned to their front.

The 230th had perhaps the most fortunate position on Christmas of any Georgia Guard unit in Europe. The battalion’s headquarters was near the Belgian town of Spa. The Soldiers were able to rotate from Malmedy to Spa where they enjoyed Turkey dinner along with the hot bubbling mineral springs. Without ornaments, the Soldiers decorated small fir trees with bright paper and bubble gum wrappers. Not content to enjoy the blessings of Christmas by themselves, the Soldiers collected truckloads of candy and food to provide for the children of nearby Malmedy. Having enjoyed a relatively peaceful Christmas interlude with the moonlight reflecting of the quiet snowy valley, the Soldiers would soon advance to provide artillery support as the Infantry Regiments of the 30th Division pressed east.[22]


Korea[23]

On August 14, 1950, the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th AAA was activated for federal service. In addition to the 101st and 250th AAA Battalions, the 178th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Operations Detachment and 420th Signal Radar Maintenance Unit rounded out the brigade. With a combined strength of just over 1,000 men, the 108th was dispatched to Fort Bliss Texas and assigned to the 8th U.S. Army. In November 1951, the 108th was dispatched to the Midwest with the 250th arriving at Fort Custer, Michigan and the 101st garrisoned at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. From these bases of operation, the Georgia Guard batteries were independently assigned to cities and industrial areas from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to provide anti-aircraft capability against the threat of Soviet missile and aircraft attacks. First Lieutenant Stone’s battery of 90 mm guns was assigned to protect the skies over Chicago.

Georgia National Guard Soldiers of the 101st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion stand in the frigid cold of a Chicago winter while waiting for their
C-47 transport plane to refuel and bring them home for Christmas in 1951. Georgia National Guard Archives.


In December, Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Adjutant General of Georgia, dispatched the state’s C-47 cargo aircraft to bring Georgia Guardsmen home for Christmas from Camp McCoy and Fort Custer. While the Georgia Guardsmen of the 101st were able to rotate home for Christmas, freezing weather prevented the Guardsmen of the 250th AAA from rotating home from Fort Custer.

The Georgia Air National Guard’s 54th Fighter Wing was activated in October 1950. Mobilized to Japan, Guard aviators flew combat missions in the skies over North Korea before returning to the United States in 1952.


Vietnam

In November and December, 1965, air crews of the Georgia Air National Guard and Citizen-Airmen from other states volunteered for a special mission to Vietnam. Nearly 80 Air National Guard aircraft ultimately participated in Operation Christmas Star, a multi-state airlift operation designed to provide service members in Southeast Asia with Christmas gifts contributed by a grateful nation. The Georgia aircrews delivered nearly 49,000 pounds of Christmas gifts and mail in addition to 97,000 pounds of Air Force cargo.[24]

The first of six Georgia Air National Guard C-97 Stratofreighters is loaded with Christmas Gifts bound for
Vietnam as part of Operation Christmas Star. Georgia National Guard archives.


Desert Shield / Desert Storm

Eleven units of the Georgia Army National Guard were mobilized for Desert Shield with six units ultimately deploying to the Middle East. The aggregate of these units encompassed nearly 5,300 Soldiers, approximately half of the Ga. ARNG’s authorized strength.[25]

The Georgia Air National Guard mobilized ten units. Personnel of the 165th Tactical Airlift Group, 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron and 283rd Combat Communications Squadron were the first Georgia Guardsmen deployed to Saudi Arabia and Europe in support of Operation Desert Shield.[26]


Iraq and Afghanistan

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 more than 22,000 of Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers and Airmen have been called to support combat operations overseas. Despite the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, Georgia National Guard units continue to support contingency missions in the Central Command area of operations. Guardsmen have also been separated from families by domestic missions ranging from cyber missions to supporting border security in the southwest United States.

 

Soldiers of 2nd Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment observe Christmas in Kunduz, Afghanistan Dec. 25, 2009.



[1] William Carraway “Cactus, Sage Brush, Fleas and Ants.” Georgiaguardhistory.com. April 5, 2017, http://www.georgiaguardhistory.com/2017/04/cactus-and-sage-brush-fleas-and-ants.html

[2] William Carraway “November to December 1918: ‘We will probably have to go into Germany’”. Georgiaguardhistory.com. Dec. 12, 2018, http://www.georgiaguardhistory.com/2018/12/november-to-december-1918-we-will.html

 

[3] William E. Ridley. Georgia Air National Guard History 1941-2000. (Clarkesville: Fine Books 2000) 11.

 

[4] William E. Ridley. Georgia Air National Guard History 1941-2000. 12.

 

[5] Richard W. Titus. A Chronicle of Georgia’s 101st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion, Antiaircraft, Automatic Weapons Limited to the Period February 16, 1942 to January 1, 1944. First American Ground Troops in New Guinea. (Crabapple, Ga.: Richard Titus June 1986) 2-31.

[6] George C. Marshall. “General Order. No. 21”. (Washington: War Department May 6, 1943).

 

[7] The Center for Military History. “Lineage and Honors of the 214th Field Artillery Regiment.”

 

[8] William M. Cosgrove. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. (Place of publication not identified: W.M. Cosgrove, III, 1997) 111.

 

[9] William M. Cosgrove. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. 125.

[10] William M. Cosgrove. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. 126

 

[11] William M. Cosgrove. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. 127

 

[12] History and Battle Record of 179 F.A. Bn., 1857-1945. (Regensburg, Germany: Frederich Pustet, 1945) 16.

[14] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry, 41.

 

[15] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry, 42.

 

[16] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry, 43.

[17] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry, 43.

 

[18]Gordon Burns Smith. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. (Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988) 83.

 

[19] Gordon Burns Smith. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition, 85.

[20] Gordon Burns Smith. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition, 88.

 

[21] John Jacobs et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. (Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 1945) 48.

 

[22] John Jacobs et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division, 54.

 

[23] William Carraway. “The Georgia National Guard and the Korean War.” June 25, 2001, http://www.georgiaguardhistory.com/2021/06/the-georgia-national-guard-and-korean.html.

 

[24] William Carraway “The Georgia Air National Guard Brings Christmas to Troops in Vietnam.” Georgiaguardhistory.com

[25] Kenneth Davis. “After the Storm.” The Georgia Guardsman.” Fall, 1991, 1.

[26] Beryl Diamond “Georgia National Guard Responds to Gulf Crisis.” The Georgia Guardsman.” Spring, 1990, 1.

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