Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama

World War II Veterans Book: Loyal Eugene Griffin

An Excerpt

Loyal Eugene Griffin was born July 24, 1923.
He died November 21, 1977.
Father: Elmus Lincoln Griffin.
Mother: Emma (Carroll) Griffin.
Wife: Blondell (Traylor) Griffin
Date of marriage: August 31, 1946.
Children: Deborah Hairston, Eugene Griffin.
Brothers: Sherman Griffin, Grover Griffin.
Sisters: Myrtle Walker, Willie Mae Bates.

Loyal Eugene Griffin

Gene was inducted into the US Army January 28, 1943 at Fort McClellan, Alabama. When he was honorably discharged September 12, 1945 from Welch Convalescent Hospital, Dayton Beach, Florida, he had advanced from the rank of private to the rank of private first class.

After induction, Griffin spent the next eleven months in training and participating in the army’s war gaming maneuvers. By December 1944, he was classified as a rifleman in the army’s Military Occupation Specialty System. This was a very hazardous classification at that time, because most of the casualties during the war in Europe were in rifle companies. During the Allies’ drive through Normandy, France and into the German Rhineland, some rifle companies suffered over 300 percent casualty rate. (The military calculated percentage as follows: If a unit consisted of 100 men and they were all killed that was 100 percent. Replacement soldiers would be sent and if all 100 were killed that was 100 percent. If replacements were sent in a third time and they were all killed that would be another 100 percent, and the military recorded it as 300 percent.)

In mid-December 1944, Griffin joined a cadre of other trained infantrymen who were ordered to the port of debarkation. They boarded troopships and on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1945, departed for the war zone in Europe. At their transit time, the Battle of the Bulge had been raging for two weeks and its final outcome was still undetermined. Replacements were urgently needed. Many infantry divisions had been in action since Normandy. Their rifle companies had been further depleted by the additional costly losses sustained in the “Bulge” This was the situation when Gene arrived in Europe on January 7, 1945.

The Battle of the Bulge began December 16. 1944. It was the last German counteroffensive and was fought in brutal winter weather. The Germans launched the attack with 30 divisions, assaulting through the Allied lines in the Ardennes forest region of Belgium. While that battle was widely covered by the news media, little attention was given to the smaller – equally brutal – that was taking place 150 miles south of the Ardennes. The US Seventh Army had been in a costly and bloody campaign through the Vosges Mountains, in order to reach the Rhine River. It is sometimes referred to as the “forgotten war”

At the end of 1944, the Germans occupied the Colmar Pocket, an area just west of the Rhine River, which jutted into Seventh Army positions. On New Year’s Eve 1944, as the Battle of the Bulge was raging in Belgium, the Germans launched “Operation Nordwind” an attack against the Seventh Army positions in the Vosges.

Griffin would normally have been integrated into combat after a period of familiarization with his assigned unit. This was not the case with replacements. In less than 20 days from stepping foot off of his troopship, Gene was sent to a replacement depot (called a “Reppo-Depot” by the soldiers), received his combat orders and traveled 400 miles to the front line. He was assigned as a rifleman in Company B, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

There was no time for Gene to get to know anyone, or for anyone to get to know him. Company B of the 30th Infantry Regiment was in the middle of a bitter fight, holding defensive positions between the small towns of Beblenheim and Ammerschwihr. As soon as he arrived on January 22, his company launched an attack from Guemar. This attack was part of the larger operation to drive the Germans from the Colmar Pocket. The high temperature for that day was 14 degrees, and there was two feet of snow on the ground. Company B fought through the Colmar Woods and reached the town of Reidwihr. Meanwhile, just a couple of miles away, Audie Murphy – was also in the 3rd Infantry Division – single-handedly destroying a German attack. As a result of his bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor and later had a Hollywood career as a movie star.

Over the next couple of days, the snow changed to freezing rain. On January 27, the 30th Infantry Regiment continued the attack through Reidwihr and reached their objective, the city of Colmar. It had been a very costly fight. Some of the 200-man rifle companies were down to less than 40 men. Among the casualties was Gene Griffin, wounded on that cold day, January 27, 1945, during combat the day Colmar was captured.

Griffin spent the next eight months in army hospitals before being discharged. His family said that this veteran just did not talk about the war. He and his wife had been married more than 25 years before he told her he had been wounded by a sniper’s bullet. She said that he lived the rest of his life with a lot of stress and pain due to his injuries, but chose to focus on the good times.

Medals awarded: Purple Heart Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Bronze Battle Stars (for Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace) Croix de Guerre with Palm-1st French Army, World War II Victory Medal.

Griffin left his hometown of Powell to serve his country, and returned there after discharge. He is buried in the New Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery.