The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

Bill B. Byers, Tech 4

Invasion Training

In England we were training for the invasion. Most of the training was on Bailey Bridges. We worked day and night building them and tearing them down. This went on for weeks. I know one day we worked 22 hours straight. We would line up and take parts off the bridge. A few times I went to sleep and bumped into the guy in front of me. I made a statement, "I'll be glad to get to France and leave one of these bridges standing." That was an error.

The training paid off. We were in line to hit the beach at Normandy with the first troops. Because we were so good at building bridges, the commanders decided to send the 299th with the first men to hit the beach. That was the biggest break of the war for us. That was terrible for the 299th. They lost 90 percent of their men.

Meeting a Paratrooper in Normandy

Soon after we landed in Normandy we had very little territory in Allied possession. Our company was laying a mine field between us and the German Army. A group of paratroopers was also there.

One of the paratroopers asked me, "What kind of outfit are you guys in?"

I told him we were Combat Engineers.

He said, "I wouldn't want any part of that!"

I couldn't believe he said that. He was a paratrooper, which is probably the toughest and most dangerous job of all. Many of the paratroopers didn't even survive the jump. I remember seeing a few of them still suspended from the trees when we arrived.

I guess the job you are chosen for and trained to do, no matter how difficult or dangerous, is easier and safer than another soldier's job.

Going Through Paris

I remember going through Paris just after the Germans left town on the opposite side. The people were lined up solid on the streets as we drove through. They would reach over the sides of the trucks just to touch our hands. It was a great feeling to see how happy they were. We drove through the city and under the Eiffel Tower.

Can you imagine being invaded and taken over by another country? There would be no one to come free us, so we must maintain the strongest military in the world, with no question about it. The Japanese General in charge of the attack on Pearl Harbor said that it would be out of the question to attack the West Coast of the United States. Every American is armed. The Second Amendment to the Constitution takes care of that. A little ninety year-old woman with a gun is equal to anyone else.

Battle of the Bulge

At the Battle of the Bulge, we were to prepare a bridge to blow if the Germans came our way. It was so cold and some of the Belgian people said it was the coldest weather they had in 20 to 25 years. I believed them. Not only that but it was also Christmas and we only had C and K rations to eat. That was not the greatest Christmas dinner.

The bridge was built of concrete and rocks. It appeared to be built to blow. The piers had holes about one foot square from the top to bottom. We filled them full of TNT and then ran 200 feet of electric line to the detonator. We stood guard in the snow and ice both day and night for 5 or 6 days. We finally got orders to go ahead and blow it. We decided to add 100 feet more line to the charge. Had we not done that, I wouldn't be here to tell this. When we blew it, it literally covered the place where we had been standing with big rocks and concrete. We were almost completely surrounded by the Germans. We took some back roads and got out of there.

This bridge was not like the bridge at Remagen across the Rhine River. The German in charge of blowing that bridge was executed by the Germans for not doing a good job. We thought he did a good job because the 10th Armored Division got a bunch of tanks across before the bridge fell. This saved a bunch of American lives.

Billy Byers on Guard Duty

As we moved across the country we would bivouac out in the open. Sometimes we would sleep in fox holes with artillery going over us all night.

One night I was on guard duty. They had a 30 caliber machine gun set in the middle of a hedgerow. I could barely see out. I don't know who picked that spot. I thought it should be set so you could see 180 degrees if at all possible.

Later that night, I could hear footsteps coming from the left side. I wasn't able to see anything until it was right in front of me. It was a cow! I could breathe again.

Demolitions

Since we are talking about demolition, there was a brick wall near the road where a building used to be. Part of the wall was still standing and I was sent to blow it before it fell on someone. It was simple deal. We just used a time fuse. But once in a while a fuse would burn down a ways and sit there for a long time before it started to burn again. We had a convoy of big guns stopped. The charge should have gone off long before. I had to go back to the charge and remove the cap. That was hard to do. Then we got an electric line, detonated, and blew it.

German Sawmill speaker icon

When the war was over, I was sent to a saw mill that was owned by a German family. The military would send me a list of lumber they wanted. I would have the mill owner cut it. I moved into their home with them, had a room upstairs and stacked my rifle in the corner. I gave them my C rations. We had all our meals together. This is to show the difference in World War II and the War in Iraq and Afghanistan now.

The End of the War for Billy Byers

After landing at Normandy, we stayed in France for a few days. I was on guard duty one night and the artillery going over and coming back sounded like it was automatic. I thought to myself, "There is no way to get out of this place alive."

When Germany surrendered and the war was over in Europe, they were still fighting in the Pacific. The military had a point system that determined who would return home first. For example, a soldier would get a point for being married and a point for each child they had. Since I was single, I had very few points, so I was being sent to fight in the Pacific.

Before going to the Pacific, I was sent home for a short leave. While we were on the ship, halfway back to the States, they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Before we landed they dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Many of us knew this would be the end of the war. You can't imagine how happy we were.

We landed in New York City and on my first night I went dancing. I was dancing with a young lady and I just burst out laughing. She asked, "What are you laughing about?" I said, "I made it back!"