The Story of My Life by Eugene James Gurr
Contributor: crex Created: 2 years ago Updated: 2 years ago
My story begins on a cold winters day at a place called Buckhorn where I was born on 26 December 1916. My parents, Wallace Marsh and Bathsheba James Gurr, were at this time homesteading on 160 acres in Buckhorn, Iron County, Utah. Our home was a small log and frame house with the cracks stuffed with mud and straw to keep out the cold weather. I was the fifth child born to my parents. Those in our family at this time besides my parents were my sister Margaret, my brother Wallace Refuge, and my sister Della. My parents had been living in Mexico before coming to Buckhorn but had to leave Mexico because of the revolution there among the Mexicans. They had been living in the Mormon colonies there but were advised to leave because of the revolution and to come back to the United States. My parents had to leave their home, livestock and all their possessions except for what little they could bring, which mostly was the clothes they wore. The saddest thing to them about leaving Mexico was leaving their first born child, Reuben, buried in the cemetery at Pacheco. There being no doctor only a midwife, mom having such a long hard labor their child was stillborn. So leaving all behind them they made their way to Utah. My sister Margaret was also born in Mexico at Dublan on 27 April 1910 and was two years old when my parents arrived at El Paso, Texas and it was here where my brother Wallace was born on 10 August 1912. The American army was stationed here at El Paso at this time and as my mother was about to give birth to Wallace, General John J. Pershing gave his tent and cot to my mother and it was here where he was born. After leaving El Paso my parents came to Utah staying awhile at Parowan, Iron County, and it was here my sister Della was born on 16 February 1915. My parents then settled in Buckhorn where they homesteaded 160 acres of land. Several members of my father’s family also settled in Buckhorn, besides many other families. Dad did his best to grow crops but as soon as the crops came up and were doing well, the wind would blow and ruin everything. To help make a living dad would haul wood and fruit to neighboring towns like Hurricane and St. George. His only means of transportation was with his wagon or with a horse and buggy. Finally they just gave up and moved out.
I don’t recall too much about living in Buckhorn but I do remember my mother telling me how I had long blonde curly hair and one day I wandered through a briar patch and got cockle burrs and weeds in my hair. Mom didn’t know about the burrs and I went to bed with them still in my hair. When I got up the next morning my hair was matted and instead of my mother taking time to comb and clean my hair she just took the scissors and cut it all off and I haven’t had much hair since.
When I was two years old my parents moved to Provo, Utah and it was here four more joined our family, Loa born 31 May 1919, LaVon born 4 July 1921, Wanda born 19 August 1922 and Beth on 21 May 1925.
In our home there was love and respect for one another. As a family we played together, worked together and attended church together. I don’t recall of any of us arguing or disagreeing with each other.
As for my childhood I would say that it was a normal happy one. In the summer we kids would go down by the old brick yard and go swimming in the river there. It was pretty good sized for a swimming hole and was a good place to swim. As a family we went on camping trips and on picnics together. I especially enjoyed going down to Utah Lake with our family and friends and neighbors and their children and go swimming there before the Lake became so polluted. We didn’t have the things to keep us entertained like the kids of today have. We played marbles, baseball, hop scotch, games like run my sheepie run and kick the can. Our entertainment was what we could do that didn’t cost us money, although we did go to a movie once in awhile that cost us ten cents. On the 4th of July we would go down town and watch the parade and maybe have ten or fifteen cents to spend. I remember when we went to the Arrowhead resort for an outing or two. The Pipe Plant where dad worked held an outing for all their employees and their families. There was food to eat, games to play, besides swimming where they usually threw coins in the pool for the children to dive for. As a family we especially enjoyed these outings together. One summer dad and mom took us all up to Lagoon where we spent the day going on what rides they had there at the time. They didn’t have the rides at Lagoon then like the rides they have there now. As a family we took a trip to Yellowstone Park when I was old enough to help drive our car. We pulled a trailer behind the car that had our camping gear and supplies in. When we were in the park my parents decided to ride back in the trailer so they could enjoy the scenery better. They didn’t stay there very long because they got scared riding there as they thought I was driving too fast. Dad always liked to tell the story of how I was driving in the park with the windows down when we saw some bears along the road so we stopped to watch the bears. Dad was sitting there watching the bears when one big bear was coming up to the car so he started rolling up the window all the while telling me to start the car and get going. Dad became pretty excited when he saw I wasn’t in the car and saw that I was outside taking a picture of the bears. I finally got back in the car and we were on our way once more. Dad always enjoyed telling about the time the bear was almost to get him and how I was out taking pictures.
My cousin Don Ostler accompanied me on the trip and I remember when we were coming through Wyoming on our way home and we camped for the night near some railroad tracks. We were all in bed when a train came down the tracks and it looked like it was coming straight toward us. Don and I got up and started running thinking we had had it for sure. When we saw the train go around the curve two very embarrassed boys soon got back in bed.
In the winter we would get together with our cousins and friends and enjoy sleigh riding and playing in the snow. One Christmas I got a Flex Flyer sleigh and I recall how much fun we had sleigh riding on it. Sometimes mom would make some candy and we all would pull it until we had taffy. Sometimes our friends would be there to help us. Often we would gather around the old player piano and pump out the old familiar tunes. One thing I really enjoyed was when I would go fishing with my best friends “Tut” Jones and Richard Bone and my brother Wally. We would go fishing down in the Provo River where we would snag carp and suckers and take them home for a fish fry.
As I mentioned before, we usually made our own entertainment. One time I made some stilts and remember the fun my brother in law Virgil Baum, my brother Wally and I had walking around on them. You don’t see children today walking much on stilts but we surely had fun with them. As the saying goes “The family that plays together, stays together”.
Of course we all had our chores to do. My job was to bring in the kindling wood and coal as in those days we had coal and wood stoves, and not gas furnaces. Sometimes we had a garden and it was our job to help keep out the weeds. When I was older I helped to milk our cow as mom always liked having our own cow.
As children growing up I don’t recall any of us having arguments or disagreements. Our parents were loving and kind but were firm with us. They both were hard working and did their best to give us the things we needed.
My mother was a very good cook and could make a delicious meal out of most anything. When she made noodles they were thin and cut so even they looked like the ones you buy but were tastier. She would make large drippers of bread pudding which we all loved so well. Mom could take things as they came along better than most people. I recall mom telling of the time when she was in the basement doing the wash when my sister Della came home bringing her teacher and all her classmates with her as Della had invited them all to help celebrate her birthday. The only thing was Della hadn’t asked mom if she could. Mom hurried and stirred up a cake while the teacher and children played games. She whipped up some cream for the cake and opened up some fruit and served them all some fruit and cake. Most mothers would have been overwhelmed to have so many people to serve and not knowing they were coming so you could have at least prepared something but not mom. Perhaps we didn’t have all the things we wanted but we were always warm and had plenty to eat, never having to go hungry.
After school was out for the summer I always kept busy usually working in the fruit. Oft times I would go with my brother in law Virgil and we would peddle fruit in Heber and Midway. I also worked for Bishop Ray Ekins in his orchards and also peddling fruit. One time when I was working for Bishop Ekins as we were on our way to the orchard we were hit broadside by a car and it tipped Ray Ekins truck right over and I was thrown out onto the hardtop. I landed on my head and had quite a gash so I ended up at the doctors to have my head stitched up which took several stitches and I had a headache for some time. Luckily no one was injured other than me.
At this time we were living at the place we called “happy hollow”. After moving several times, my folks bought an acre of ground down in the river bottoms where BYU had their dairy farm later on. I helped to build our house there and it wasn’t too bad of a place for those times. We had to carry our water from a nearby creek as we had no running water and no modern bathroom in the house but life here was good and we all loved “happy hollow”.
When I was old enough to go to school I first attended the Maesar School. I didn’t have far to walk to school as it was only about three blocks away from our home. I enjoyed going to school but my teacher told my mother that if it wasn’t for her seeing me seated at my desk she wouldn’t know if I was in school because I was so quiet. I still am a quiet person and have been all my life. I remember one Christmas when our school held a contest for the best costume. I won first place for coming dressed as a Christmas stocking. This was very exciting for me.
The next school I attended was the Page School. When I first went to the Page School we didn’t live too far from it so I didn’t have much of a walk to school but then we moved out of Provo City to what is now called Pleasant View. We lived up on the east hills and had a three mile walk to the Page School. My uncle Joe James and his family lived by us and our homes were high upon the hill. In the winter it was especially rough walking to school as the snow was so deep and when it was frozen and crusted over we could walk right over the top of the fences but sometimes the crust would break and we would be almost buried in the snow. My grandfather Reuben Gurr would sometimes come along when school was out with his horse and buggy and give us a ride home. We were always happy when grandpa would give us a ride home as we liked riding in his horse drawn buggy. We didn’t have a car to drive to school as the school kids do now days. We walked to wherever we wanted to go and we didn’t go much.
I attended junior high and senior high in Orem at the Lincoln High School. We had moved back down into the valley and as we lived three or four miles from school we got to ride the school bus.
I always liked school and enjoyed taking part in school activities. As I grew older I liked to participate in sports especially baseball and basketball both in our school and in ward games. We would go from ward to ward to play basketball and we had a good team and made a lot of friends. In school we played baseball and basketball with the other high schools usually winning our games as we had a good team. In baseball I was a pitcher and also played on first base. I was going to the Lincoln High at the time I was playing baseball and basketball. I also enjoyed going to other school activities such as the school dances. Some of my friends and I would get together to go to our school dances. We also attended some of the dances held during our mutual activities.
As I attended grade school and high school I was active in primary, Sunday school and mutual and in the scouting program. I also participated in the seminary program while going to Lincoln High. It was here where I learned more about the gospel and was glad for the opportunity to attend. After completing the three year requirements in the seminary program I graduated on 17 May 1936. They didn’t have the four year program then as they do now. After completing the required number of years I graduated from the Lincoln High School on 22 May 1936.
At the time of my graduation we still lived down at “happy hollow”. Now that school was out I went to work again helping Ray Ekins and a Mr. Patten in the fruit for awhile then in the fall decided to go to Salt Lake and enroll in Henegars Business College. I stayed at my Uncle Joe James home while going to Henegars but was there only a couple of weeks when my mom came up and told me the bishop wanted to see me about going on a mission. I returned home and Bishop Ray Ekins interviewed me and asked if I would like to go on a mission for the church. I accepted this calling and so I went to work at the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company to help earn some money to help with some of the expenses in getting ready to go on my mission. I worked here until it was about time to leave on my mission. I remember having a small globe of the world bank in which I saved up dimes in and which I gave to my dad as I was leaving to go to the mission home. When I returned home from my mission my dad presented me with the same bank but instead of dimes he had saved liberty head nickels. So in the fall of 1937 a green Mormon boy not knowing much about the gospel went with several other young men to what was then the Western States Mission.
A farewell meeting was held in the Pleasant View Ward in the Sharon Stake for me just prior to my leaving for the mission home. Bidding farewell to my family, friends, and ward members, I entered the mission home on 25 October 1937. My parents took me to Salt Lake leaving me at the mission home along with several other missionaries who also were from Utah and other states also. Here we received instructions, studied the gospel and held testimony meetings. I was set apart as a missionary by Melvin J. Ballard and ordained a Seventy by John H. Taylor. Heber J. Grant was the president of the church at this time and he would sometimes come and talk to us at our testimony meetings. We lived in the mission home and we slept in a large room filled with cots where about twenty of us stayed. We just had to go around the corner from the mission home to the Lion House where we had our meals. While at the mission home I had the opportunity to attend a couple of temple sessions at the Salt Lake Temple. I received my own temple endowments in the Salt Lake Temple on 20 September 1937. I stayed at the mission home for about two and a half weeks before leaving for the mission headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Just before leaving for Colorado I got to spend the weekend home with my family. My parents took me to Salt Lake where I boarded the train at the D & RG railroad station along with several other missionaries. We stayed a couple of days in Denver as this was the headquarters for the Western States Mission. Here we received our assignments and our companions as all missionaries went out to teach the gospel in pairs as was the requirement. My first companion was Elder Hadlock.
I was transferred from Denver, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I first labored in the mission field but after being there a week I was transferred to Las Cruces, New Mexico to replace a missionary who had finished his mission and was going home. I was here at Las Cruces for about two months but as the missionary work was not too successful here they closed the area and I was transferred back to Albuquerque. While I was at Albuquerque I had the opportunity to visit the Carlsbad Caverns on one of my days off. These caves are very spectacular and worthwhile going to see. I labored in Albuquerque for about two months and was then sent to Council Bluffs, Iowa. We were here for sometime doing missionary work and it was here where I met Alvord Cox a missionary from Wyoming and we became very close friends. We kept in touch with each other for many years after our mission. The missionary work here was very successful and we baptized several converts. My missionary companion was Elder McDonald from California. While serving here we Elders formed a basketball team playing with teams from other churches and we had a good team winning most of our games. It was at one of these games where I lost one of my front teeth as one of the players bumped my mouth with his elbow.
While in Council Bluffs I met my good friend and neighbor Richard Bone who was also serving a mission here at this time. It was good to see someone from my home town and one I knew so well. We had shared many good times together before when we were friends and neighbors in Pleasant View.
President Wyss was the branch president here at Council Bluffs and he and his wife would have us missionaries to dinner once in awhile. The Western States mission took in a big territory covering Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and Nebraska. We held several cottage meetings and we always had a good crowd attending these meeting.
While at Scotts Bluff I became acquainted with a convert to the church by the name of Robert Roman. Robert and I became very good friends keeping in touch for sometime but we lost contact with each other after I was home after WW II. President Seegmiller was the mission president for the Western States Mission at this time. He would come to visit the missionaries at our conferences. I recall when he and his wife were returning home from a missionary conference from Scotts Bluff and his car hit a rut in the road which flipped their car end over end twice in their old Model A Ford. Neither the president nor his wife was injured. While on my mission I had many good experiences and made many friends. I had the privilege of baptizing new converts and going door to door spreading the gospel. Most of the people were good enough to listen to our message but there were a few who said they didn’t want to hear of the gospel and closed the door. My first companion at Scotts Bluff was Elder Lindsay.
On our day off I along with five other elders went to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. Austin Whitmore, our district leader, was one of the elders who went along with us. It was quite something to see the four presidents faces there carved out of stone. When we were there to see Mt. Rushmore there wasn’t a visitor’s center or a parking lot. It is quite different today to what it was then.
The mission headquarters published a news letter about every two weeks telling of the progress of the missionaries. My companion Elder Hershey and I were at the top of the list for doing more tracting and contacting people than any other missionary. I was the senior companion at this time. I would say my mission was very successful as we converted and baptized several people. We also made many friends with whom I kept in contact with. It was at Gordon, Nebraska where Elder Hershey and I did so much tracting and contacting people. For our good work we were presented with a record player and a record of the Joseph Smith story to take around to those we contacted and let them hear about Joseph Smith as they could get more from the record than they would by us telling it to them.
I learned much from my mission beside learning more about the gospel. I and my companion had to care for our own apartment, learned all about housekeeping, also how to do our own cooking and to care for our clothes. I also learned how to manage my money more wisely. We were sometimes invited out to eat with some of the members but mostly we did our own cooking. On Christmas it was just like most every day except we did go to a Christmas program that was held in the church.
I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve a mission and thankful to my parents for supporting me so that I was able to go. My parents sent me fifty to seventy five dollars a month for my support which doesn’t seem much to some but at that time it was hard for my parents as they still had four children at home to support and wages weren’t very much at this time.
I was released from my mission on 13 November 1939 after serving for two years. I would encourage all young men or women to serve a mission if they had a desire and the means to do so. It helps one to grow spiritually and physically. You learn how to manage your money more wisely, how to shop, how to cook and keep a clean house besides learning how to get along with people. It is a good learning experience.
When I returned home from my mission my parents had moved from “happy hollow” as they had bought a home on 12th North and 9th East in Pleasant View. It was good to be back with my family and friends. The following summer I again worked for Bishop Ekins in the fruit orchard. I also helped my parents landscape their yard. My sister LaVon had as her 4-H project the landscaping of our yard for which she won a trip to Chicago.
In about September I with three of my friends got into my 1935 Plymouth and took a trip to the northwest. We went to Yellowstone National Park, on to Glacier Park, and then up in Cardston, Canada. We had a good time sightseeing and seeing some country we hadn’t been to before. Those who accompanied me were Reed Ekins, his brother Shirley and Duane (Tut) Jones. We were gone for a week then returned home coming back through Montana and Wyoming to home.
As soon as we returned home I applied for work at the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company. I worked in the valve shop but mostly in the cleaning and finishing department. I worked here until I received a letter from my Uncle Sam informing me to report for duty at Fort Douglas, Utah.
Once more I was bidding farewell to my family and friends but this time I was leaving to serve my country. I had received greetings from my Uncle Sam so I along with several other young men from Utah County were to report at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City on 21 March 1941. We were not yet at war but it was looking like we would be as Germany and Italy had declared war on England and we were an ally of England.
We met at the Provo court house and two buses were there to take us to Fort Douglas where we received a physical examination and then were issued our uniforms and duffel bag. We were then allowed to return home for a few days. Returning back to Fort Douglas we were then shipped to Fort Knox, Kentucky for our basic training. Awakened each morning by reveille call about 6 o’clock we were kept busy doing calisthenics, going on five mile hikes, and target practicing with rifles and machine guns. We also had K. P. and guard duty to do. While here at Fort Knox we were given the choice of serving in the Air Force or staying in the Armored Division. Two of the group went in the Air Force but the rest of us stayed in the Armored Division. I was assigned to the 756th GHQ Tank Battalion and completed training in automotive mechanics before leaving Fort Knox. There was a USO center here where we could go for recreation and we had movies at the base.
I arrived at Fort Lewis sometime in September and here we had more training in gunnery and in driving tanks and trucks. I also was the clerk in the office filing and typing for a lieutenant. While stationed here at Fort Lewis I had the opportunity to go to Vancouver Island in Canada.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and on other Islands so on the 8th of December the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States and Congress declared war on them so now we had military men fighting in the Pacific and in the Atlantic. In case of a coastal attack by the enemy we had to patrol the coastal waters staying out very late at night and watching the ocean very close. We had to black out our barracks for some time and it was quite an unpleasant experience.
While stationed at Fort Lewis I received a weeks leave, my first since joining the army. I spent my leave visiting my family and friends for it had been some time since I had seen them. Again I returned back to Fort Lewis where we still had training by going on five mile hikes and having practice on the target range. One of our last training maneuvers was to go in a truck and jeep convoy to San Diego, California. It took us two days to get there and then our jeeps and trucks were loaded on a troop ship and the G. I.’s were assigned a bunk. We didn’t know if we were going to be shipped overseas or not. We did our calisthenics on deck of the ship but the rest of the day we wandered around the town but coming back in the evening to bunk down on the ship. A few days later we were taken back to Fort Lewis on the troop ship. All in all we were gone a week. This maneuver was giving the army and navy training in how to handle men and equipment on a ship. Shortly after this I was transferred to Camp Bowie, Texas. This base was near Brownwood, Texas and was quite a contrast to Fort Lewis. At Fort Lewis the scenery was beautiful with pine trees all around but Camp Bowie was in a barren area without trees. In the summer it was very hot but sometimes cold in the winter. The following poem tells a little bit about Camp Bowie but the author is unknown.
Camp Bowie, Texas
I’ve been in Yuma, Arizona And Needles, California The Utah deserts’ hot salt plains, And Pal, I’d better warn ya’, Each place is hot throughout the day Although some nights are dewy; There’s one place hotter, yes siree --- You guessed it pal, Camp Bowie.
In Oklahoma, near the handle, Where vegetation falters, The Kansas plains, where temperature Runs rampant without halters; But get the books and mark it down And I’ll hereby attest it, Most any place that you can name, Camp Bowie has it bested.
At Camp Bowie I was the clerk for Captain Pepple who was in charge of the motor pool and supply depot. I typed up the requisitions for parts, fuel and ammunition. I also chauffeured him around the base wherever he had to go. Here I was assigned to the 749th GHQ Headquarters and also received my Staff Sergeant strips at this time.
We had more training here going on bivouacs, taking five mile hikes with full pack, and shooting on the gunnery range. Once when we were out on Bivouac Captain Pepple told me to take a truck back to get a load of water. Two other men were assigned to go with us. Going back I turned off on a road different than the one we came out on. You can imagine our surprise when five or six soldiers stepped onto the road aiming their rifles at us saying “You are under arrest. You are our prisoners”. They detained us for awhile while they called on the radio to our command post to see what we were doing in that area. When they found out we were not spies they let us go. We filled up the five gallon cans with water and loaded them into the truck and went back to camp. When we returned they told us it was good we had been captured as our group was to have a mock training war with the other group but no one had told our group. The other group (the red army) was to have tried sneaking into our camp and was surprised when they found us in the middle of their camp. We were the blue army but didn’t know what was going on until we were “captured”. On the way back we found an armadillo and took it back to camp but the captain made us turn it loose telling us “no pets in the barracks”.
We went to Louisiana for two weeks on bivouac where we received more training with live ammunition and were told to keep “our heads and butts” down or we could be killed. I was given my second leave home from Bowie and it was while I was home on this leave I met my future wife. My brother and his wife had asked his wife’s sister and I to go to a movie with them at the Scera Theater. After the movie we went for a drive and then home. We both enjoyed being with each other and went out on dates for the rest of my leave. When I returned back to camp we wrote to each other and in June asked her to marry me. She accepted and in July I sent her an engagement ring.
I was then sent to Camp Hood and was transferred to the 749th Tank Battalion Company C and was the Supply Sergeant there. At Camp Hood we did all the usual calisthenics, going on five mile hikes, out on the target range, besides getting supplies ready for going overseas.
In December I received a furlough so went home and on 7 December 1943 I and La Wanna Giles were married in the Salt Lake Temple and had a short honeymoon in Salt Lake City. A reception was held for us in the Women’s Literary Club in Provo and a shower given for my wife in Springville. We packed all our gifts away until I would return from the war and we had a place of our own. We had our first Christmas early as I had to return back to camp. I returned back to Camp Hood after bidding my wife and family goodbye and I was there only a few weeks when we were notified we were being shipped overseas. Just before we were to leave my wife and my sister Wanda came to Austin, Texas to see me as I had a three day pass and we had a good time just sightseeing and being together.
We left Camp Hood and moved to Camp Shanks, New York on 1 February 1944 where we took inventory so see that we had what clothing we needed such as shoes, socks, underwear, and uniforms. We were allowed to go looking around New York while we were waiting for a ship to load our supplies. We departed on board the “Santa Paula” for England on 11 February 1944 and arrived at Cardiff, Wales on 23 February 1944. We were on the seas nearly two weeks and the ship was always blacked out so no light could be seen. We couldn’t be out on the deck after dark. I never got seasick but several other of the soldiers did.
We left Cardiff on 10 April 1944 and went to Hereford, England in a convoy where we were stationed at Camp Foxely, England. We were put on alert at Camp Foxely on 24 June 1944 and departed there for the Port of Debarkation on 27 June 1944. We went to South Hampton where we boarded LST’s and sailed the English Channel crossing over into France for combat duty. We were to have been among the first who landed on Utah Beach on D-Day but as our commander was ill we landed at Utah Beach on 29 June 1944. It was dark when we landed and tracer shells were whizzing all around us besides being fired upon with other weapons. We could just barely get out of the water onto dry land when orders came down the line ordering us to dig in and stay here for the night. I was really afraid at first and I silently talked to my Heavenly Father all night long asking if it be His will that I would be protected and that I would return home to my wife and family safely and in one piece. Come daylight my fear left me and I had no more fear from then on no matter how close of a call I had.
Our division never got into actual combat until 3 July 1944 and we kept right on seeing it until the end of the war on 9 May 1945, 308 consecutive days of combat or 313 if you count the days we were in reserve before the 3rd of July.
We were not the first armored tank battalion over here but we were one of the first and managed to stick the thing out all the way through without being relieved. The fighting at the “Bloody Hill of Montgardon” on the approaches to La Haye and at La Haye itself was some of the toughest fighting that was done over here in the whole war. We arrived at La Haye on 8 July 1944 and the fighting here was what they called “Hedgerow Fighting” and all I need to say is that it was very difficult and very bloody. We then pushed on to Fougères arriving there on 3 August 1944 and pushed on to Laval on the 6 August 1944. We reached Le Mans on 8 August and continued on as there wasn’t any stiff opposition along the way, just a number of small pockets. We kept on pushing through and crushing through the thin wall of resistance racing for the Belgium border. When we started rolling we moved practically day and night without stopping until on 20 August we crossed the Seine River being the first armored division to do so. We kept right on to the Belgium border going so far and so fast that we ran out of fuel and had to sit out in the open until more supplies caught up to us. We arrived at the Belgium border on 2 September 1944. The 749th Tank Battalion holds what is believed to be a record for a combat unit covering so great a distance in so short of time.
As the Supply Sergeant my job was to take fuel, ammunition, clothing and K and C rations to the front lines. We lived on C and K rations mostly but once in awhile a mess truck would catch up to us and we would have a hot meal. One time I was to pick up some new recruits and take them to our company but I missed a turn and was headed for enemy territory when the French people came out waving small French flags crying out “Krauts still here, go back, go back”. I turned around in a hurry and high tailed it out of there and we made it back to our camp safely. Several days later we liberated this little village and the French people were surely glad for the American soldiers who had come to help them.
After sitting on the Belgium border for a few days, what did we do but come back halfway through France again to join the Seventh Army in the Joinville-Charmes sector. Up to the time we arrived at Joinville we were with the 1st and 3rd armies at various times. Although we supported other outfits occasionally we were principally attached to the 79th Division. We were with General George Patton’s army and we had to go wherever we were called to do to help support positions. The Battle of the Bulge was one of the worst we got into (near the Meuse River in the Ardennes) with a fierce battle going on and it was raining and so muddy, it was really a mess. The Foret de Parroy was one of the toughest and the bloodiest fights in the war. During World War I this ground was never taken and we had a tough time taking it this time. The 79th Army was pulled out for a rest and the 44th Division took their place but not so for the 749th as we had to stay there and support the new outfit. During the push from Luneville into Germany we supported many Divisions and often two or three of them at a time. These were the 44th, 42nd, 45th, 63rd, 70th, 71st, and the 100th.
We entered Germany on 20 March 1945 at Pirmasens and Sarnstall, pushing through the Siegfried Line on 23 March and on to Landau and Neustadt. We didn’t see too much action but we saw wrecked vehicles scattered all about and German soldiers walking along giving themselves up voluntarily. Several days later we were at Mainz and crossed the Rhine River on 30 March pushing our way on through Germany with the 65th Division and joining the 3rd Army once more.
We went through Frieberg, Alsfeld, up to Hersfeld wiping out small pockets that the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions had bypassed. From here went on to Sontra, Eschwege, Muhlhausen, crossing the Saale River at Camburg, going on to Zeitz and Altenburg and went on Topseifersdorf and entered Limbach on 24 April 1945 and remained here until the end of the hostilities. After crossing the second branch of the Mulde River we were at this time at the deepest point in Germany of any American unit. During the war the 749th Tank Battalion had been in three armies, four Corps and served with 7 Infantry Divisions, one Armored Division and one Calvary Gp. Making 311 days of combat for our outfit. The men of the battalion traveled more than 2000 miles with their tanks in France and Belgium since landing on Utah Beach. Germany finally surrendered and peace was declared on 8 May 1945.
During all the hostilities I received but one wound and that was a gash in my right arm which happened when the building we were in trying to get some rest was hit by a large enemy shell which blew the building in on us which resulted in my arm being gashed and I going to the first aid station.
After V-E Day (8 May 1945) we were sent back to France at a desolate place where we were to get prepared to be shipped to the Pacific to help the forces there as we were still at war with Japan. We were still here when Japan surrendered on 2 September 1945. Those of us with the most points (the longest overseas) were the first to come home of which I was one.
We departed from La Harve, France on 10 September aboard the “Exchange” and arrived in New York on 18 September and inactivated at Camp Shanks in New York on 19 September. Arriving in Salt Lake I was discharged on 28 September at Fort Douglas. When called to serve we were told it was to be for one year but I was in the service for 4 1/2 years. I earned four battle stars, was awarded the American Defense Service and Good Conduct badges.
In our original C Company there were 120 men but when the war was ended only six of us from C Company survived. I know without a doubt I had a guardian angel looking out for me at all times. I know I was protected by the hand of the Lord all throughout the war.
It was good being reunited with my wife and my family. We lived for a short while in my parent’s basement apartment while we looked for a home to buy with the money we had saved. We bought our first home in Pleasant View from Arlington Snow which came with all the furniture in it. It also had a fireplace in it and La Wanna and I went up Provo Canyon to get a load of wood and we enjoyed our evenings before the fireplace. We enjoyed life here having relatives and friends come, attending church activities and just enjoying being together. We lived here for about a year when we sold our home and bought a lot from La Wanna’s dad and we built our home in Springville.
When I returned from being in the army I went back to work for the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company and worked as a mould setter in the finishing department as a core setter, trough man, iron pourer, machine operator, weigh man, ladle liner, cupola tender, bed burner, as a watchman sometimes and last was a crane operator. I retired from there after thirty-three and a half years on 11 May 1973. I had to take an early retirement because of health problems. My kidneys were deteriorating and so at age 56 I left the Pipe Plant.
While I was building our home in Springville we lived in my parent’s basement and I spent all of my spare time working on the house. My father in law Edwin Giles and I dug the basement with his horse and hand scraper which was hard and tiring work. After we had the basement dug out and put the forms in my brother Wally, my brother in laws Tadd and Marv and a few others I can’t recall helped with the cement work and from then on I did most of the building by myself. As soon as the basement was finished we moved in and I was able to spend more time in finishing the upstairs. In our basement we had a kitchen, a large living room, a bedroom, bath and furnace room.
While we were living in my parent’s home our daughter Virginia was born. She arrived on 19 December 1946 at the Payson Hospital. She brought joy into our home.
While we lived in our basement La Wanna’s sister Ila, her husband Marv and their daughter LaRene moved in with us while they built a home next door to us. They slept in the upstairs of our home although it wasn’t all finished. When I had finished the house we had two bedrooms, kitchen, bath, living room on the first floor and a large bedroom and storage room in the attic.
We were active in church activities having many callings while living here. I was ward clerk and then was called to be a counselor in the bishopric. We also went often to the temple with our friends Carl and Mary Mitchell.
Our son Gene was born while we lived here arriving on 18 November 1950 at the Payson Hospital bringing happiness into our lives. We lost a baby from miscarriage in between our daughter Virginia and son Gene. On 15 February 1953 our daughter Sue Ann was born but only lived a few hours.
We sold this home and bought one on Canyon Avenue which was a nice brick home. We moved here awhile before Gene started school. We lived here a couple of years then sold this home and moved to Mapleton living in my folks home there while our new home was being built. When our son was in the third grade we sold this home and bought the home that was my mother in laws and built on two rooms for my mother in law to live in. This home was old but comfortable. I have made many improvements on this home and would like to have made more but couldn’t because of my health. We especially liked the location and were happy with what we had.
Whether we lived in Provo, Springville or Mapleton I have always been active in our church. Some of the positions I have filled are Councilor in the Sunday School Superintendency, several times as Genealogy Chairman, Ward Clerk and Councilor in the Bishopric, High Priest Secretary, High Priest Group Leader, assisted in the Icelandic Extraction program, worked as veil worker in the Manti Temple and worked on the welfare farm.
I have enjoyed going to the temple to do initiatory work, endowments and sealings. I have taken several trips to the temple to take the young members to do baptisms and helped senior Aaronic members and their families go to the temple to have their temple work done. Our temple districts were in the Salt Lake, Manti and Provo Temples. We have also been to the Logan, Jordan River, Idaho Falls, Cardston, St. George, Arizona, Manti and Los Angles Temples.
After I returned home from being in the army La Wanna and I went on a trip accompanied by my parents and my sister Loa and her husband David. We went up the coast into Vancouver, Canada and on down the coast to San Francisco, California to visit my sister LaVon and her husband Omar as Omar was stationed there while in the navy. This was our first trip together, one of many trips we have taken since our marriage.
Our trips were numerous and as we didn’t keep a record of them I will just try to recall the places where we have been. We took La Wanna’s parents to Idaho to visit her Uncle Joe, her dad’s brother. We have taken many trips to Yellowstone National Park. We traveled through Oregon and Washington and down the coast to the Redwoods in California. We traveled to Mesa Verde, Colorado several times and to the Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon in Arizona. We went to Disneyland several times, to Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. We have been to Canada three times. We have gone to Mount Rushmore, Glacier Park in Montana, to Nevada and California several times. We have gone to New York stopping at all the church history sites along the way and Boys Town in Nebraska. We have gone to Mexico and visited the places where my family used to live and visited the cemeteries where family members are buried. We have been in New Mexico, Washington D. C., Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and many other places. We have been too many points of interest in our own state of Utah the most memorable are the trips to Fishlake. We have had many enjoyable times on our many trips with our children and extended family members.
I have had many hobbies throughout my life time. I have always enjoyed making things with my hands. When I was going to high school my dad and I made two wheeled trailers which we sold. We also made one four wheeled trailer for a fellow who asked us to so he could haul his furniture in it to Canada. I also made a record cabinet for my collection of records and a couple of chests for storage. These were not made of cedar but were built like a cedar chest.
The biggest project I undertook was when I built our home. It took me awhile and it was a nice comfortable home when I finished it and I had the satisfaction of making something I was proud of. I was always able to repair my own cars and have done so until the new cars came out and had to be put on a computer.
Some of the things I have built were baby cribs, doll beds, a doll clothes closet and many small kitchen cupboards for family and friends. I have made high chairs and rocking chairs and doll houses. I enjoyed helping our grandsons make boats, bird houses and whatever they needed to make for Cub Scouts projects.
When we bought my mother in laws house I did a lot of remodeling on it such as lowering ceilings, removing mop boards, putting in new windows, building new cupboards, new closets, remodeling the bathroom and putting in a new furnace.
When I retired I had planned to build doll furniture and other crafts but I didn’t get to do much as I had to retire early because of poor health. I took up making place mats and hot dish trivets out of yarn on frames I had made. After making several sets of these my daughter gave me a hooked rug kit and started me on a new hobby. I have made rugs and wall hangings for family members. I have helped my wife tie many quilts. I even made miniature furniture for my wife’s miniature doll house. I have enjoyed doing these projects as they helped to keep me busy.
I have also enjoyed camping and fishing. I have always liked to read and enjoyed a good mystery or a good western novel. I always enjoyed reading the scriptures. All of these things have been enjoyable.
I have had a good live with my wife and family. We all worked together, played together, went to church together and who could ask for anything more.
Up until I was fifty six years old I had always been in good health, having a cold or the flu occasionally. Then in the year 1973 I started feeling tired, not having much strength, so I went to our family doctor for a checkup. Dr. Orton sent me to a specialist who sent me to the hospital for some tests. After the tests came back I found out that my kidneys were deteriorating. I was advised to quit working and so I retired on 16 November 1973.
For several years I didn’t have very good health and was unable to do very much. My feet broke out in sores several times, especially in the winter. I had a severe case of shingles which were very painful and later even a more painful kidney stone. Finally my kidneys were so they didn’t work very much and I had to go on dialysis. I had to be on the dialysis machine for three days a week and for four hours at a time. I was on dialysis for about two and a half years and then on 1 October 1986 I had a kidney transplant at the L.D.S. Hospital. For awhile I had to be careful not to be around anyone with a cold, the flu or any other illness. After my operation my transplant did well and my health improved so that I could do a few things I hadn’t been able to do for years.
It felt good to be able to do a few things and to be able to do a little traveling. I thank my Heavenly Father for the many blessings that He has given me.
I thought my posterity might want to know something about my life and that is the reason this history is written. I hope it will be pleasant memories for them to look back on my life.
My wife and I have had a good eventful happy life together. I have enjoyed my children and grandchildren. They have been a pleasure and a joy to have around. I want each and every one of them to know I love them all very much.
I want you all to know that I do have a strong testimony of this gospel and our church. It is the only truth revealed by our prophets. I believe it to be true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Heavenly Father watches over us and hears and answers our prayers. I know that my prayers have been answered many times. If you will all stay close to the gospel, do what is right and keep the commandments you will have joy and happiness in your lives and in your homes. May the Lord bless each and every one of you.
Letter by Eugene James Gurr giving his combat history in the 749th Tank Battalion during WWII
Contributor: crex Created: 2 years ago Updated: 2 years ago
23 May 1945 Nobdentiz, Germany
My Dearest Wife,
Since censorship has been lifted I will try to give you our combat history.
First of all, let me say that we are now located at a small town by the name of Nobdenitz, Germany. That puts us approximately due south of Leipzig and due west of Chemnitz. At present we are doing occupational work, but we don’t know how long we will be doing this. It is not a bad deal. Maybe I will describe it more fully later.
We landed in Cardiff, Wales and while we were in England we stayed near Hereford that is a fair sized town near the Welsh border. A fairly good time was spent there in the four months time.
As all of you know, we arrived in Normandy (France) near the end of June (the 28th to be exact). That is just about the time that Cherbourg fell. We moved through Sainte Mere Eglise, Pont l’Abbe and on into the assault position for the push for La Haye du Puits. La Haye was a small town but an important railroad junction that was the southern anchor of the German defense line on the peninsula.
It was on the third of July that we first saw combat, and we kept right on seeing it until the end of the war on May 9th, 1945. That would be 308 consecutive days or 313 days if you count the time we were in reserve before the 3rd of July. I’m quite sure that is a record for an armored outfit of any country in this or any other war.
We were not the first tank battalion over here, but we were one of the first and did manage to stick the thing out all the way through without being relieved.
The fighting at La Haye was what they called “Hedgerow Fighting”. I think all of you have had it described to you. All I need to say is that it was very difficult and very bloody. We helped to develop what they called the hedgerow technique. That became the model for that type of fighting over here. As I think you know, we were with the famous 79th Division. They really are a good outfit and gave the Tankers the kind of support they wanted.
The fighting at the “Bloody Hill of Montgardon” on the approaches to La Haye and at La Haye itself was some of the toughest fighting that was done over here in the whole war.
While we were there some of our tanks took time out to give the “Famous Fourth” Armored Division and the Sixth Armored Division pointers on hedgerow fighting. At the time of the big breakthrough, we sent Company C to Saint Lo to clear a path for the 4th Armored. Of course you all read about the 4th Armored breaking through. What they did was to exploit the breakthrough of part of the 749th. At the same time the rest of the battalion was pushing through Coutances (beyond La Haye) followed by the 6th Armored. Of course, no mention of us was given here either. We were on the Secret List, but those are the facts believe it or not.
After the breakthrough we advanced to Granville, Fougères, Laval and Le Mans. There wasn’t any stiff opposition along the way, just a number of small pockets. Incidentally, the 5th Armored Division assumes credit for taking Le Mans but a checkup on the records show that Company C had their CP set up in the town the preceding day and there was no fighting there by the time the 5th Armored Division showed up. So, you can see why we get burned up when people ask what Armored Division we are with, and they say that they have never heard of a separate Tank Division.
It was back of Granville that we went swimming in the ocean. There was a nice beach there so the temptation was too great. There was a large number of Anti Tank Mines on the approaches to the beach but they were pretty well exposed and probably wouldn’t have gone off if one of us had stepped on one, as they take quite a bit of pressure to set them off. Lucky for us, there were no Anti Personnel Mines there. It was really hot that day and the water sure did feel good.
While we were near Le Mans, the Krauts tried to cut our lines at Avranches at the base of the peninsula so we cut back to help seal off the Falaise Gap, thus sealing off all the Krauts left at the base of the Normandy Peninsula.
Then we pushed on toward Paris, but as we expected never got there. We pulled up to about twenty miles west of it and were able to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance when we turned north to the Seine River. The prize of Paris was left to the French Second Armored, but I guess that was OK. After all it was their capital. Those boys hadn’t done much until then, but later showed that they were a pretty good outfit.
At this point I am proud to say that we were the first outfit across the Seine River at Mantes Gassicourt which was the first bridgehead made. We established the bridgehead all right and stayed there for sometime feeling like the boys that were sweating it out at Anzio. We didn’t have many men over the Seine but we had plenty of Anti-Aircraft to protect our pontoon bridge and plenty of artillery to give us support. I believe we had the heaviest artillery concentration used over here up to that time. All day long you could hear the whisper, whistle and shriek of artillery, and at night it was ten times as heavy. And I’m glad to say that most of it was ours. Here, too, was where the Luftwaffe really showed itself, darting in and out of the clouds, strafing us at intervals of fifteen minutes to a half hour, all day long. Fortunately it rained considerably here and finally put a stop to the German Air Corps.
By the time the push into Belgium came around there was just a thin wall of resistance left. After crushing through that, it was a race to the Belgium border, again meeting only small pockets. When we started rolling, we moved practically all day and night without stopping until we hit the Belgium border. And I believe that was a record at that time for a combat unit covering as great a distance in such a short time. At least that is what the Corps Commander said in a citation to the 79th Division whom we were still with.
After sitting on the border for a few days, what did we do but turn around and come back halfway through France again to join the Seventh Army in Joinville-Charmes sector. So we made another big move that took us a couple of days and night to complete. While in northern France we went through a number of towns, Rheims, Valenciennes, St. Amand, Cambrai and a number of others. Near Rheims we camped where the trenches had been and there were still duds and pieces of shrapnel left from the first conflict. In Rheims we passed by the famous Cathedral which is one of the finest in the world. I am sorry we couldn’t have been on a pleasure trip and stopped to have seen the beautiful buildings (and women). Also in Rheims is the world’s largest Champagne Cellars famous all over the world.
Up to the time we arrived at Joinville we had been with the first and the third armies at various times. Although we supported other outfits occasionally we were principally attached to the 79th Division. When we hit Joinville, we joined the 7th Army. I believe that we were in the Southern France District when we were at Le Mans but I’m not sure. Come to think of it we were with the 3rd Army at Joinville and joined the 7th Army a few days later. However we have never received credit for being in the Southern France Campaign as the 7th Army was still attached to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations at that time. We may get a campaign star for that but the chances are we won’t even though we were in that zone at the appropriate time.
It was at Charmes that we missed the Bing Crosby show. The show was interrupted to start for the push for Luneville another important rail center. The fight for Luneville was a tough one as the Krauts were dug in on the river bank. (I believe it was the Meuse or the Moselle although it might have been the Meurthe). They are all pretty close near there. Once the river was crossed it took about a week before the town was secure. After that the fighting was really tough in the number of small forests and the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The Foret de Parroy was one of the toughest and bloodiest fights in the war. During the last war that ground was never taken and we had a tough time taking it this time.
It was after the main part of the battle that the 79th was pulled out for a rest and the 44th Division took their place but not so for the 749th. We had to stay here and support the new outfit.
By this time the push through the Saverne Gap came we found ourselves supporting three divisions at one time in a big push. From that time on we rolled all over the border district from Hageunau and Bitche up to Forbach and Saarbrucken, taking cracks at the Maginot and Siegfried Lines.
At the time of the Ardennes breakthrough the Krauts tried to push through in our sector but without success. In a couple of places we pulled back to more favorable positions but never letting them through. It should be remembered that all this time the 7th Army was holding more ground than any army over here.
From Luneville to the big push into Germany we supported many divisions and often two or three at a time. These include the 44th, 42nd, 45th, 63rd, 70th, 100th and the 71st.
After we did cross the border into Germany we went through the Siegfried Line on 23 March 1945. We passed through Pirmasens, Landau and Neustadt never seeing much action. We did see thousands of wrecked vehicles practically all German and many bodies both human and animal. I believe there was also tens of thousands of Heinie soldiers walking back to be placed in P. W. cages, many of them giving up voluntarily, marching unescorted by American soldiers. After a few days we went up Mainz with the 65th Division and joined the 3rd Army once more. There we crossed the Rhine on 29 March 1945 bypassing Frankfurt, we went through Frieberg, Alsfeld and up to Hersfeld (just south of Kassel.) We kept criss-crossing the Autobahn (super highway) wiping out small pockets that the 4th and the 6th Armored Divisions had bypassed. From there we turned east and went through Sontra, Eschwege, Muhlhausen, and crossed the Saale River at Camburg. From there we went to Zeitz and Altenburg. At Altenburg we crossed the Mulde River and went on to Topseifersdorf and Limbach (near Chemitz).
After crossing the second branch of the Mulde River we were at that time in deepest point in Germany of any American Unit. It was then we received the orders from higher headquarters to pull back across the Mulde and await the Russians. After that it was just sweating out the Russians and the end of the war. I should add that we left the 65th Division before Muhlhausen and became attached to a different unit whose name I cannot reveal at the present. Also shortly before the war ended we were transferred back to the 1st Army and we are now with the 9th Army.
So this is the combat diary of the 749th Tank Battalion, and if you ask us it is quite a story. We are now with our fourth Army since hitting the Continent. We have been attached to six Corps and 12 Divisions. One Division I didn’t mention was the 83rd whom we supported for awhile in Normandy near St. Lo. All in all we’re willing to put our combat record up against any outfit large or small. Although the newspapers mention the Armored Divisions and the famous Infantry Divisions we feel our Battalion has done our bit over here.
Yes, our boys have done a great job. The record of our tankers speaks for itself. To do what we did, we had to be good. But don’t forget the Medics who were right up there taking care of our boys when they needed them. Also, don’t forget the boys who drove those gas and ammunition trucks right up to the tanks to service them regardless of the danger. The same goes for the maintenance men who kept them rolling all over Europe and when a tank was knocked out, went into no-mans land and brought it back and put it in working order. Believe me all the fellows did a swell job and did it for over three hundred days stopping only for a few days at a time to repair their tanks and trucks only to carry on again.
I hope this will answer all the questions you have been asking for the past fifteen months.
Your loving hubby, Gene