World War II Veterans Book: Hubert Clay Durham

An Excerpt

Hubert Clay Durham was born July 20, 1920.
Father: Rother Dewey Durham.
Mother: Zelia (Clay) Durham.
Wife: Betty Jo (Clayton) Durham.
Date of marriage: February 6, 1946.
Children: Hubert Clay (“Hu”) Durham, Jr.
Sister: Margaret Harris.

Hubert Clay Durham

Durham did not wait to be drafted. Instead, he volunteered and joined the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which was instituted to educate bright young minds in engineering and communications fields in order to provide the army with a cadre of such qualified soldiers. Universities around the country provided the facilities and instructors.

During his basic training Hubert earned his Qualification Badge as a sharpshooter with the M-1 rifle. He was then sent to Florence, Alabama for radio training. Completing his course there, he was off to Mississippi State University for further technical schooling. He also completed a 16-week school as a radio switchboard installer. All of this technical training in the field of communications qualified Durham for a very important job––deciphering and encoding highly classified information for one of the army’s infantry divisions during its combat in Europe. His specialty rank was now cryptographic technician in the US Army’s Signal Corps, and his services were now in high demand in the war zone.

In late 1943, Hubert received his orders to Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot located in Greenville, Pennsylvania. The depot was part of the Army Service Forces responsible for sending soldiers overseas to fill slot requirements from European Theater Headquarters. As a prelude for the upcoming invasion, units in England were looking for cryptographic technicians like Durham. In early December, Hubert got his orders to go to Camp Miles Standish, located outside the port of Boston, a staging camp for overseas deployment. He boarded a troopship shortly after Christmas and departed on December 29, 1943, along with a large convoy headed for the Atlantic. Durham landed in Liverpool, England on January 8, 1944. In England Hubert continued his advanced training, first with the communications company of the 28th Infantry Division, followed by new orders transferring him to the 10th Armored Division.

In the spring of 1944, England was literally bursting at the seams with US military personnel and equipment. The standing joke among the English was: “The purpose of the huge antiaircraft blimps flying above the country was to keep the island afloat, and if the grounding cables were ever cut, England would sink!” All of these military men and their weapons were being staged for the upcoming D-Day invasion of France. Plans were made as to which divisions would be used on D—Day, D—Day plus 1, D—Day plus 2, etcetera. Durham and his skills were needed on D—Day plus 4, in the 9th Infantry Division. Once again, Hubert received a transfer order to the 9th Signals Company, the divisional headquarters unit responsible for all of the 9th Infantry’s communications. This was the unit with which he would experience war firsthand and up—close; the war to liberate free countries from four years of occupation by the brutal Nazi regime.

A young, patriotic Hubert Durham never realized what he would experience when he volunteered to do his duty for this country, but he certainly became a man during the Normandy invasion, and fighting through the hedgerows of France. It all began when the 9th Infantry Division landed across Utah Beach in France on June 10, 1944 (D—Day + 4). As part of the 9th Signal Company, Hubert and his buddies faced many obstacles. Dr. Stokes, the command historian at the US Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia, wrote: “In World War II, little was typical in the Signal Corps’ missions. They faced never—dreamed —of challenges at every echelon · ·  · · Regardless of location or terrain, communications were critical, and they were provided. From North Africa, through Sicily, Italy, across France into Germany, the Signal Corps was there until victory in Europe.”

When the Germans realized that the Allied troops were striking westward, they plugged the culverts and dammed the waters under the bridges of the swift—flowing little Vire River, flooding the land that soldiers like Durham had to cross. For two bloody months Durham and his unit fought in the hedgerow country of Normandy, finally participating in the breakout called “Operation Cobra .” His unit then pushed the Germans across Northern France and then through Belgium, finally reaching the German border in September. There in Germany, just inside the border at a small forest south of Aachen, Hubert and the 9th Infantry Division fought in what many historians classify as one of the bloodiest and most costly battles of the war in Europe——the Battle of the Huertgen Forest.

Hubert fought the weather as well as the Germans. Those battles took him through mud, rain, sleet and snow, in one of the coldest winters ever recorded in the area. He fought in places named Manche, Calvados, Mayene, Orne, Seine—et—Marne, Aisne in France. In Belgium he battled through Namur, and during a fight called the “Battle of the Bulge” he was there at Elsenborn in the Ardennes Forest. After the battle of the bulge, he and his unit fought their way through the Rhineland, Hessen—Nassau, Westphalia and Saxony regions of Germany. In All, Hubert fought in five of the most ferocious campaigns of the war.

Durham also saw firsthand why he and the other American troops were fighting. His unit came face—to—face with the infamous Nordhausen Concentration Camp when it had just been liberated by the 3rd Armored Division. To young soldiers like Hubert, the scenes were beyond belief.

The 9th Division had no more than five out—of—action days in a period of over four months. Durham, and his unit, the 9th Signal Corps Company, handled all of the division’s communications through those bloody campaigns across Europe. Since his job kept him sometimes close to the divisional headquarters, Hubert remembers seeing the division’s Chief of Staff, Colonel William Westmoreland, later a prominent name that he would read about during the Vietnam War.

Hubert left Europe on October 4, 1945, and arrived back in the United States October 12. He had earned his Silver Battle Star (which represented five campaigns).

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

Durham left his hometown of Fort Payne to serve his country and returned there after discharge. He and other family members founded Durham’s Hosiery Mill. He still goes to work most days.