Book Excerpts

James Thomas Davis

An Excerpt from the forthcoming book on DeKalb County Veterans by Julia Brown

James Thomas Davis was born February 18, 1917.
He died February 17, 1996.
Father: Wallace Davis.
Mother: Willie Mae (Tucker) Davis.
Wife: Frances (Brown) Davis.
Date of marriage: March 12, 1943.
Children: Marla Gail Holbrook, Morris Lee (“Bud”) Davis.
Brothers: Joe Davis, Wallace Edwin Davis, Willie Edward Davis.

James Thomas Davis

James Thomas Davis was inducted into the US Army on October 28, 1943 at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was honorably discharged February 1, 1946 from Fort McPherson, Georgia. He had advanced from the rank of private to the rank of technician, fifth grade.

After basic training Davis had earned his Qualification Badge as a marksman with the M-1 rifle, and was classified as a dispatcher clerk. Assigned to Company C, 740th Railway Operating Battalion, Jim went to Slidell, Lousiana near New Orleans for training first.

The Transportation Corps of the Army Service Forces was located at Camp Plauche, Louisiana where the 740th Railway Operating Battalion was activated in December 1943. Davis was next sent to Camp Plauche, Louisiana (originally called Camp Harahan). In 1942 it became a training base for battalions of railroad troops, port troops, and hospital men. Completing his basic training there, Jim and the 740th then left on January 23, 1944 for Camp William C. Reid in Clovis, New Mexico for technical training on the Santa Fe Railroad. The men that made up the 740th Railway Operating Battalion had different duties that they would perform in combat. The troops were scattered over the line with the Santa Fe workers.

Technical training for Jim and his unit was completed April 30, and the battalion began marking time pending receipt of orders to be deployed. In the interim, they participated in more intensified military training. The orders finally arrived, and Davis boarded a troopship July 18, 1944 for the European Theater and arrived in Liverpool the 29th, and from there proceeded to St. Mellons, near Cardiff, Wales, where it split the 740th into 20 detachments for work in various depots throughout southern England. Davis was assigned to Company C of the 740th Railway, and left August 13 for France, landing off Utah Beach on the 14th. Company C was then sent to Cherbourg to run engines east to Mayenne. As a dispatcher, Jim helped his unit move the dispatching office to Le Mans. In his book 740th Railway Operating Battalion, John Livingston, described this operation:

On August 25, 1944, they began the task of moving the dispatching office to Le Mans. They learned early that they would have to cope with problems never experienced in civilian railroading. The chief crew dispatched, Staff Sergeant John J. Barnett (“Pennsy”), was ably assisted by tech 5 corporals James Thomas Davis, W.E. Hansford, and J.H. Osburn. The crew board that had been set up immediately on arrival at Mayenne was moved to LeMans on August 26.

From war-torn France, through Belgium and Holland, past the Siegfried line into the enemy territory of Germany itself, the 740th was given the mission of operating trains over hastily reconstructed tracks and bridges in logistical support of the Allied forces in their effort to push back the German front. Living under the almost constant fall of aerial and buzz bombs, and subjected to the radio propaganda of the infamous William Joyce, “Lord Haw Haw,” the battalion fought to maintain its morale through Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite casualties and great destruction.

William Joyce, was a British Nazi propagandist. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1906. When Joyce was a child, his family moved to Ireland and then to England. As a young man he got caught up in the fascist movement. Moving to Germany just before the outbreak of World War II, throughout the war he broadcast German propaganda in English from Berlin. He blamed the war on Jewish international finance and started his broadcasts with “Germany calling, Germany calling,” and ending them with a defiant “Heil Hitler.” He was nicknamed “Lord Haw Haw ” by a Daily Express journalist because of his aristocratic nasal drawl. Joyce was captured by British soldiers in Germany in 1945. Despite his American birth, he was adjudged subject to British jurisdiction because he held a British passport. He was convicted of treason and hanged in 1946.

Trains were operated and switched at night by the light of men signaling with personal flashlights, cigarette lighters and lighted cigarettes. It was not until the end of August that Barnett’s crew received the lanterns, flashlight batteries, gloves, flagging, and other equipment to issue trainmen. Working conditions could not have been worse.

From the front in Mayenne, General Patton said that if he could get 31 trains of ammunition and POL in 14 days, he could take Paris. The 740th Railroad Operating Battalion was up to the task. Trains a quarter of a mile long rolled toward Le Mans, with their lights turned on. Snipers shot the windows out of the cars, and German machine guns peppered the boilers with armor-piercing shells, but the trains got through. Some of the soldiers went five days without sleep, but the 740th gave General Patton 36 trains in five days. On August 30th, the 740th took the first train into Paris.

Davis said the thing he remembered most about the war was being under buzz bomb attacks for many months while transporting supplies by rail to the troops in combat.

Medals awarded: Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Bronze Battle Stars (for Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe), World War II Victory Medal.

Davis left his hometown of Fort Payne to serve his country and returned there after discharge. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.

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