My father and the 87th Infantry in Europe 1944-1945
My dad, John H. “Johnny” Brantley was one of 13 children born to a cotton-picking, share-cropping couple in Milam county Texas. Born in 1923, he was the fourth son and fourth oldest. My grandparents lived in poverty that is seldom found today and I grew up with tales of deprivation during the Great Depression. The children began picking cotton around 5 or 6 years of age and none ever started their rural school until all the cotton was in, and of course, they left school in the spring to begin the “choppin”. My dad reached the 8th grade. Although their stories were usually quite grim, my dad and his siblings would laugh about their hardships and poverty when they were grown. Destitution had created a bond and a closeness that prevailed to their end.
Before World War Two my dad and several brothers had been part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now the young cotton-pickers had a chance to travel the country somewhat, with trips to Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, working for the CCC. I think that experience, along with his adventures in Europe, instilled a “wanderlust” in dad that persisted until he died. It seems we were always headed off for a vacation somewhere! I’ve read historians’ claims that the huge number of young Americans working in the CCC gave our Armed Forces an advantage when the war required so many troops. They were accustomed to living a disciplined life in barracks and uniforms and the transition into the armed services was not much of a change for them.
My dad was a member of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery of the 87th, which was part of the Third Army, commanded by General George S. Patton.
John H. Brantley at about 21
In a club in Atlanta, Georgia shortly after basic training at Fort Benning in 1944.
They sailed from New York City on November 4, 1944 aboard the HMS Louis Pasteur. They eventually left England and arrived in Le Havre, France on December 2. They traveled through France, firing their first artillery round on December 6, 1944 at Metz followed by the first infantry attack at Saarbruken on Dec. 11.
They left the Saar basin on Dec. 23, headed for the Ardennes to reinforce American troops in the Battle of the Bulge. I heard several interesting stories from this period. My dad was impressed with the deep snow and spoke of it often. He didn’t speak of the war that much but would sometimes relent and reminisce. He was part of a wire-laying team for field telephones and told of hazardous missions through darkness to find and repair broken wires. When I think back now and “do the math”, I realize that at the time of my questioning, we weren’t that many years removed from his experiences. Some of his stories were funny and some told of the horrors of war and things I don’t think he really wanted to remember.
My dad is seen here, standing in the middle
Johnny on the right with his M1 carbine
They breached the Siegfried Line on February 26, 1945 and fought for the city of Koblentz from March 17-19, 1945.
The 87th crossed the Rhine River on March 26.
They then drove toward Czech territory, arriving in Falkenstein on May 6 to get ready for an advance along the northern Czech border. The next morning, a cease fire order was phoned to them and by May 13, they had become an occupying army.
German troops flocked to American units in order to avoid capture by Soviet forces. My dad said a long column surrendered to them one day. Their CO sent a jeep along their line and they deposited their weapons into duffel bags which the CO then offered to his troops as souvenirs. I have an officer’s sword, a 1916 Ruby-type .32 auto pistol (which was originally issued to the French Army in World War One. Now, that’s got to be the basis of a great tale-the same pistol carried by soldiers in at least three armies during two world wars!) and a Mauser bayonet that were collected that day.
My dad had three older brothers serving in the U.S. Army at that time. One stayed stateside, one was in the Pacific Theater and one was also in Europe. Through letters back home to my grandmother, they discovered that they were not too far apart at some point. I knew they had met there but didn’t remember many details. Not many years ago, my uncle Jeff (J.G. Brantley) told me the story shortly before his death. It seems my dad “borrowed” a truck from the motor-pool. Whether he had permission to do so was never established. 🙂 He drove about 50-60 miles to meet his brother on a Friday, and the two of them, along with a coupe of Jeff’s mates, spent the weekend getting drunk. My dad somehow drove back to his unit unscathed. 🙂
My dad, on the right and Jeff beside him during their meeting in Europe
Here two GIs inspect a pile of cached equipment. Note the soldier on the right holding an STG-44, the first real assault rifle and one of the most advanced rifles of the war.
Here troops swarm aboard a surrendered German fighter at the Plauen airfield in the lower photo, while the upper shows a Tommy and two Yanks reading the news of V.E.Day
Surrendered German officers
The end of the line for a Messerschmidt 109
A captured, shot-up Panzer
The devastation of war
What’s the old adage? Life in the army is 90% boredom and 10% terror? That’s probably about right and even in wartime, the mundane must be taken care of too. Here’s my dad on the left, doing laundry with a mate
At some point, maybe even after hostilities had ended, my dad served as a driver for their commanding General, William W. Ford. General Ford was the only general to wear the artillery liaison pilot’s wings during the war. He later took my father up for a short flight in an observation plane.
The 87th sailed for home on July 4, 1945 aboard the luxury liner America which had been converted to the troop carrier West Point. The reached New York City on July 11. In this picture, my dad is the soldier at the lower right in the garrison cap, looking to his left.
The majority of these photos are from the “yearbook” of the 87th Infantry. Yes, I have read that book so many times since I was a boy. The Second World War had a great significance for my, as it did for many of my peers as well. Almost every friend I had growing up was the son of a World War Two veteran. We all heard stories from our fathers and playing army soldiers was almost a way of life for me. I can still remember watching WWII TV programs like “The Gallant Men” and “Combat” with my dad. I wonder now what must have been going through his mind then. He used to claim that he was never scared over there and figured that if anyone could make it home, he could. I’m glad that he did, or else I wouldn’t be here to write this. My dad passed away on May 17, 1979 at the much too young age of 55. If you’ve made it this far in the story, thanks so much. We all have our own personal family histories and so many of us have the same kind of connection to that war. May their stories never be forgotten.