World War II Veterans Book: William Henry Minnix

An Excerpt

William Henry Minnix was born March 21, 1926.
Father: Walter Green Minnix.
Mother: Onnie Odell (Powell) Minnix.
Wife: Christine (Wilson) Minnix.
Date of marriage: March 16, 1947.
Children: Dr. William Henry Minnix, Dr. Rebekah Christine Smith, Victoria (“Vicky”) Cuerzo.
Brothers: Aubie Rutledge Minnix, Jessee Wyatt Minnix, Walter Green Minnix, Jr.
Sisters: Mable Gates, Marie Ellis, Mary Lou Crossley.

William Henry Minnix

Bill Minnix was inducted into the US Army August 8, 1944 at Fort McPherson, Georgia. When he was honorably discharged in 1946, he had advanced from the rank of private to the rank of private first class.

Minnix was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida for basic infantry training. Due to losses sustained by rifle companies in Italy, Normandy, and the Rhineland campaigns, the army was in need of infantry trained soldiers. At this time (in the autumn of 1944) the basic infantry course for recruits was seventeen weeks. Due to heavy casualties after the Germans launched their counteroffensive in December 1944 known as the “Battle of the Bulge” Minnix and his fellow recruits received only fifteen weeks of training before they were ordered overseas to the combat zone.

Bill, along with a large group of replacements, boarded a train bound for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, the army’s staging area for troops departing the Port of New York for their Atlantic crossing to the European Theater. The ship arrived in Le Harve, a war-torn port city on the Normandy coast of France, in January 1945. Bill and the thousands of young soldiers, who were arriving for combat in Europe, were sent to one of several replacement depots (called “Reppo-Deppots” by the troops.) Because of the ongoing Battle of the Bulge, every infantry division was engaged in combat. The rifle companies were desperate for replacements as most of them had suffered 80% casualty rates.

There were many critics of the army’s replacement system. In other armies, after a period of combat, division replacements were pulled back for rest. Here, they would be integrated into their respective units, trained, and given a period in which to acquaint themselves with their leaders before returning to combat. However, the US Army wanted to keep constant pressure on the Germans and made a decision that all divisions would remain on the line.

Casualties would be filled on the front lines by a constant stream of replacements. This system allowed divisions to remain in combat indefinitely, placing a great hardship on a young replacement being led to his unit (often during the night) as he was being directed to a foxhole. Many times this was done while the position was under artillery or mortar fire, and there was no opportunity for him to meet his leader, make friends, or be told what was expected of him. To a veteran soldier, the new replacement had not “paid his dues” and consequently, many times he was given the most dangerous assignment. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Bill Minnix.

In late January 1945, Minnix received his orders to be assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, 99th “Checkerboard” Division as a replacement rifleman. The 99th had arrived two months earlier in late 1944, and was assigned to a “quiet” zone on the Belgium-German border, where the troops could acclimate themselves to the war. Fate intervened, however, and the 99th happened to be in the exact position the Germans had selected to spearhead their armored attack in what became known as the “Battle of the Bulge” The young citizen-soldiers of the 99th fought like battle-tested veterans. Their tenacious defense disrupted the timetable of the German attack.

Eighteen-year-old Minnix remembers well the circumstances of his introduction to combat. Around midnight a truck brought him and other replacements to the rear of the front line near the small German town of Udenbreth. Through the darkness he and another young soldier were led to one of the foxholes of Company G. They had to move slowly and quietly as they were under direct observation of the enemy entrenched in pillboxes a few hundred feet away. The night Bill arrived coincided with the 99th Infantry Division’s relieving the 82nd Airborne Division, which had been occupying the position for several days. A few minutes after Minnix got into his foxhole, the Germans sensed movement and lit up the night with flares and tracers from their machine guns.

The next day Bill was given his assignment – scout. This meant that Minnix would be the “point” man; the person who proceeds the other members of the platoon, and usually the first one to draw enemy fire. First scout turned out to be his assignment for the duration of the war.

On February 7, 1945, Company G launched its attack through the fortified German lines at Udenbreth. With the aid of a tank-destroyer unit and bazooka fire, by February 11 the men were able to penetrate and break through the German fortifications. Minnix had survived his first combat experience, but later that month succumbed to a most unusual illness, the mumps. Hospitalized for a short period, after recovery he was sent back to his unit in mid-March. By this time it had crossed the Rhine River at Remagen. Bill caught up with them east of Linz, and on March 21, his 19th birthday, he resumed his job as first scout.

For the next thirty days the 99th Infantry Division fought southeastward, and then aided in the closing of the Ruhr pocket, entrapping hundreds of thousands of German troops. In some areas the resistance was very stiff and violent clashes continued to take the lives of the young soldiers of Company G of the 393rd Infantry Regiment. After the closing of the Ruhr pocket, the troops pushed southeast and reached the Danube near Reid. The 393rd was the first unit to cross the river, crossing in twelve-man boats near Eining. On May 2, they began their drive to the Inn River. Three days later they were ordered to cease offensive operations and proceed to Landshut for occupation duty. The war ended on May 8, 1945 with the unconditional surrender of all German forces.

Minnix fought in the front lines as an infantryman in three major campaigns in the European Theater and then served in the Army of Occupation. He returned home in July 1946 after eitghteen months overseas.

He listed his most memorable events during the war as follows:

  • FUNNIEST SIGHT: It was mid-April 1945, and months of dining on K-rations had left my squad yearning for something a little more palatable. A brief window of opportunity occurred when we stopped in a small German farm village. The entire squad attacked a flock of chickens with Browning automatic rifles, submachine guns, pistols and M-1 rifles. The chickens didn’t have a chance. The short battle netted one reasonably decent stewing chicken. Halfway through the stewing we heard “MOVE OUT!” I always wondered what happened to that half-cooked chicken.
  • A STARTLING INCIDENT: Near the end of the war my squad was halted, sitting on the lower side of a road that wound down a small mountain. The Germans were trying to pick us off with artillery, but their range was off and the shells were exploding higher up on the mountainside. Something hit my helmet, knocked me over, and my helmet rolled down the mountainside fast, but not as fast as the frightened deer that had cleared the road in one grand leap and landed on my head. My buddies thought that was very funny.
  • SADDEST SIGHT: A mother, having retrieved her dead soldier-son from a battle area, was pulling him along a road on a hand-cart, crying, mouth open, tears streaming, and eyes fixed on the horizon in a grief stricken stare. She was oblivious to the column of American tanks passing her. The sounds of her grieving were cancelled out by the sounds of the tanks barreling along the cobble-stone road. I have always thought that a graphic portrayal of this scene would make a great antiwar poster.

Medals awarded: Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Battle Stars (for Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe), Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal for Germany, Belgium Fourragere.

Minnix was reared in the Dawson community. He was living in Rome, Georgia when he left to serve his country. He now divides his time between his home in Miami, Florida, and his home in Ocoee, Tennessee.