1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie: Jack in the Alice Griffin Letters

This article is a companion piece to The Alice Griffin Collection, providing more details about a man who appeared in many of her letters.  As my research continued over a period of six months, this article swelled to practically master’s thesis length.  For that reason, I have split into several sections that can be navigated with the links below:


The Search for Jack

2nd Lieutenant Alice E. Griffin, a nurse from Boston, Massachusetts, served in the 32nd Station Hospital in Algeria and Italy.  Griffin’s letters home represent one of the best sources of information about the 32nd Station Hospital’s first year in operation overseas.  Out of approximately 180 extant letters and postcards sent by Griffin between March and December 1943, at least three dozen mentioned an officer from another unit known only as Jack.

In July 2019, Griffin’s daughter shipped me all her mother’s known letters so I could digitize them.  It quickly became clear that this was an exceptional collection, rich in both historical details as well as vivid stories.  Griffin’s daughter noted Jack’s frequent appearances in the letters, but all she could tell me about him was that he was not the man her mother eventually married at the end of the war.  The relationship seemed warm but was clearly not meant to last.  Although Griffin’s family appeared quite curious about Jack, she warned them almost immediately that she would not be seeing him again after his unit left Algeria.

As I began digitizing and transcribing the letters from the Griffin collection, I found myself curious about the people who appeared in them.  With the aid of Ancestry.com and various newspaper archives, I found that I was often able to identify people—even those mentioned only briefly—and share the letters with their descendants.  In many cases, this was quite easy when I had a last name, because Griffin often mentioned an address that could be cross-referenced to census records or city directories.

Although I thought it would be nice to share the letters mentioning Jack with any family he might have, I initially thought the task of identifying him to be insurmountable.  The extant correspondence never mentioned his last name or where he was from.  As I catalogued and transcribed the letters, however, I realized there were a substantial number of clues, pertaining to both his unit and Jack himself.  Still, identifying a man with such a common first name out of the over 11,000,000 men who served in the U.S. Army during World War II proved to be the greatest research challenge of this project so far—ironic, perhaps, given that he was not a member of the 32nd Station Hospital.

These were the most critical clues in identifying Jack:

  1. His date of birth was November 16, 1914.
  2. He was an officer in a Tank Destroyer unit equipped with M10s.
  3. He had met Griffin in Algeria in late May or early June 1943.
  4. Jack’s unit (though not necessarily Jack himself) went overseas circa August 1942.
  5. Jack’s unit fought at Kasserine Pass and Bizerte during the Tunisian campaign.
  6. He was probably an officer.  (Jack was socializing openly with Griffin for an extended period and nurses were typically disciplined for fraternizing with enlisted personnel; since warrant officers were rare, he was probably at least a 2nd lieutenant.)
  7. He had a company commander, referred to as Newt, indicating Jack’s rank must have been no higher than 1st lieutenant.
  8. He left Algeria after October 11, 1943, but was in Italy prior to November 16, 1943.
  9. He had a niece and three nephews (at least).
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Alice Griffin’s November 16, 1943 V-mail provided Jack’s date of birth, a critical clue in identifying him (Courtesy of the Feeney family)

Starting in September 2019, I made a cursory attempt to identify him by searching in the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs B.I.R.L.S. Death File.  I looked for men with his date of birth with first names of John, Jon, Jonathan, or Jack.  There were about 45 matching names, of whom perhaps half could be eliminated because they did not serve in the U.S. Army or had the wrong dates of service.  I was able to find obituaries for some of the men, which indicated they were enlisted or served in the wrong theatre of operations.  However, I could find no information on many of the remaining names.  I also knew from previous research that that, while the B.I.R.L.S. records were useful, many people who served during the war did not have an entry in the file at all (including, as it turned out, the man that I was looking for).

It was clear that, to have any chance of identifying Jack, I would first have to identify his unit.  Letters written on June 22 and October 24, 1943 told of the same incident in which Griffin had, to her embarrassment, scheduled dates for two men at the same time.  The June 22 letter described the men as being from “the TDs” (Tank Destroyer), while the October 24 letter specifically named one of the men as Jack.  In addition, Griffin’s July 25, 1943 letter stated: “Tues afternoon I’m going to the desert to visit Jack’s place & ride in his M10”.  The M10 was a kind of tank destroyer.

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An M10 tank destroyer traveling through Querceta, Italy, on February 8, 1945.  This vehicle is from the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion. (Signal Corps Photo #329837, National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

There were additional clues pertaining to his unit as well.  An undated letter (which I believe was written August 8, 1943 based on a reference to an upcoming rest camp visit) stated that, the day before, Jack’s unit “had all day Sat off because they were a year over-seas.”  Even if I was wrong about the exact date the letter was written, it meant that Jack’s unit had gone overseas in the summer of 1942.  With the Axis powers still in control of most of Western Europe and North Africa at that time, the only possible destination was Great Britain.  A July 28, 1943 letter also stated: “their jeeps are practically falling apart – after traveling through Bizerte[,] Kas Pass etc”.  This meant that Jack’s unit fought at Kasserine Pass and Bizerte during the Tunisian campaign.  So, Jack was an officer in a Tank Destroyer unit that was in Great Britain by the summer of 1942, fought in the Tunisian campaign in early 1943, and that was equipped with M10s by late July 1943.  Jack’s unit also didn’t depart Algeria until mid-October at the earliest.

I skimmed the unit histories of all 106 Tank Destroyer battalions.  Seven had participated in the Tunisian campaign in 1943.  Of those, only four—the 601st, 701st, 805th, and 894th Tank Destroyer Battalions—had been shipped to England or Northern Ireland in 1942.  The other three had deployed directly from the continental United States to North Africa.

The 601st fought at Kasserine Pass, but could be eliminated as a candidate because it was deployed to Italy too early, in September 1943.  The 701st also didn’t quite match; it arrived in Northern Ireland in June 1942, didn’t fight at Kasserine, and didn’t get back to the Tlemcen area until August.  The 805th arrived in England about the right time, fought at Kasserine Pass, and left for Italy around the right time, but they didn’t leave Tunisia for Algeria until July 25, 1943.  In addition, the 805th’s equipment was wrong for the summer of 1943: They used the M3 Gun Motor Carriage until (a halftrack with a 75 mm cannon mounted) they were re-equipped with towed anti-tank guns, not M10s.

That left one possible unit: the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  It left the United States on August 6, 1942 and arrived in England on August 17, 1942.  It was also the only Tank Destroyer unit I found that participated in both battles mentioned in Griffin’s letter: Kasserine Pass and Bizerte.  After the Tunisian campaign, it re-equipped with M10s at the Fifth Army Tank Destroyer Training Center near Sebdou, Algeria, close to where the 32nd Station Hospital was in operation in Tlemcen.  Finally, the members of the 894th boarded ships for Italy in mid to late October 1943.  All the unit clues fit.

I learned that there was a book entitled Seek, Strike, Destroy: The History of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II by Patrick J. Chase.  Published in 1995, it was unfortunately long out of print; the going rate online for a used copy was an astonishing $250.  Only a handful of libraries in the country had copies of the book.  One was the New York Public Library.  Coincidentally, my family and I were already scheduled to visit New York City for a weekend and I was able to examine the book briefly on October 19, 2019.  There was a roster printed at the back of the book that listed all members of the unit as of May 1945.  The roster listed only one officer listed named John (John W. Madden) and his date of birth was not a match.  There was also not anyone named Newt or similar on the roster.  However, men would have been constantly transferring into and out of the unit.  Jack and Newt could easily have left the unit in the almost two years between the letters and the printed roster.

The book also had a copy of a program for a Christmas dinner held on December 25, 1941.  The program included a list of all members of Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at the time.  One of the platoon leaders was listed as 2nd Lieutenant Baker D. Newton.  It seemed likely that this man was Newt, Jack’s company commander.

894thXmasRoster
A page from the Christmas 1941 dinner program listing officers and N.C.O.s from Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion; a copy of this document in Seek, Strike, Destroy made it possible to identify “Newt” from one of Griffin’s letters as Baker D. Newton (Courtesy of the Newton family)

Indeed, when I began checking the book for men named John in the index, I saw that a Lieutenant John S. Jarvie of Company “C” was mentioned twice during the Anzio campaign.  Skimming the section of Chase’s book describing the breakout from Anzio, I read a passage that made my blood run cold:

Company C lost four destroyers to one German gun alone.  Three M10s had already been destroyed when Lieutenant John. S. Jarvie, against his better judgment but following direct orders not to bypass any opposition, took his one remaining destroyer down the winding road.  Lieutenant Jarvie and his entire crew fell victim to the same gun that had gotten the other three.

As it turned out, this was not an entirely accurate account.  However, finally armed with a last name, I found a January 19, 1950 newspaper article in the Trenton Evening Times about Lieutenant John Scott Jarvie’s recent burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  The article gave his date of death as May 29, 1944 and provided the name of his father as well as several of his siblings.  The article also indicated that he graduated from college in 1936, which was consistent with a date of birth in late 1914.  The dates of birth for the other 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion officers I could find named John did not match, so Jarvie remained the most likely candidate.

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1st Lieutenant Jarvie’s internment form (National Archives via Ancestry.com)

There was only limited information about Jarvie online.  Records on Ancestry.com listed him on census records with ages that indicated he had to have been born in 1914 or 1915.  The U.S. National Cemetery Internment Control Forms for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery provided his service number (O-338819) and stated: “Remains were reinterred under WWII Dead Program and are buried in the common grave with LIGHTSEY, Robert D., Sgt.”  No date of birth was listed on the form.  No specific unit was listed aside from Infantry Branch, Army Ground Forces.  Many officers assigned to Tank Destroyer units did come from the Infantry or Field Artillery.  Family trees on Ancestry.com can be a valuable source of information, but only distant relatives had Jarvie listed and none seemed to know his date of birth.

It was also puzzling that he was buried with another person.  That suggested to me that the individual remains couldn’t be distinguished.  Did that mean that Sergeant Lightsey was a member of his tank destroyer crew?  At the very least, it would seem they were killed the same day, in the same place.

Birth records for some states are available online via Ancestry.com, but not those from New Jersey.  For a small fee, I saved myself a drive to New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.  On November 29, 2019, a copy of his birth certificate arrived in the mail.  The date of birth matched the one given in Griffin’s letter and gave his place of birth as Trenton Junction (now known as West Trenton).  It was a bittersweet moment; it proved I had found the right man beyond a reasonable doubt, but part of me hoped that I had been wrong and that he had survived the war.

John-Scott-Jarvie-Birth--Certificate-1
A copy of John Scott Jarvie’s birth certificate (New Jersey State Archives)

I still had more questions than answers.  I had submitted a records request for Jarvie’s records to the National Personnel Records Center (N.P.R.C.), but learned that, like most of the U.S. Army’s personnel records from World War II, they had been destroyed in a 1973 fire.  However, the N.P.R.C. recommended that I might learn more from his Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F).  On December 7, 2019, I ordered it through Golden Arrow Research, which could get the record scanned somewhat faster (not to mention higher resolution) than if I had ordered it directly from the N.P.R.C.  Golden Arrow sent the record over on December 27.

Lieutenant Jarvie’s I.D.P.F. was a critical piece in the puzzle, answering many questions about Jarvie and the circumstances of his death.  Contrary to the brief account in Chase’s book, I learned that two members of Jarvie’s M10 crew did indeed survive and gave firsthand accounts of the battle.  I was also surprised to learn that an infantry captain from an was riding the M10 when it was destroyed and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  It was not the last surprising revelation to emerge during my research.


Biography of John Scott Jarvie

John Scott Jarvie was born on November 16, 1914 in Trenton Junction (now known as West Trenton), New Jersey.  He was the sixth child Albert L. and Daisy O. Jarvie.  Albert (1882–1938) worked in a variety of jobs over the years: pressman, laborer, poultry farmer.  Daisy (née Johnson, 1886–1956) was a housewife.  (Curiously, John’s birth certificate listed her birthplace as Sweden, but census records gave her birthplace as New Jersey, and her parents as being born in either Sweden or New Jersey.)  A document in his I.D.P.F. stated he was Episcopalian.

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A young John S. Jarvie, presumably taken at Bordentown Military Institute in the 1930s (Courtesy of the Jarvie family)

Jarvie graduated from Bordentown Military Institute in 1936.  In 1937, he married Bertha May Koller (1919–2003).  The following years were apparently a difficult period in his life.  Despite his education, by the time he was recorded on the census in April 1940, he had been unemployed for three years and was living with his brother, Walter G. Jarvie (1908–1971), in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, rather than his wife in Trenton.  That might tend to suggest he was estranged from his wife; she also was conspicuously absent from the list of survivors in the 1950 Trenton Evening Times article.  However, they apparently remained married until his death and she was listed as his next of kin during his U.S. Army service.  In 1945, the year after John’s death, she remarried, to Harry W. Errickson, Jr.

Jarvie’s difficulty in finding employment didn’t seem to be for lack of effort, and the Great Depression may have played a role.  On August 11, 1938, the Trenton Evening Times announced he was one of several men who “qualified for appointment as ambulance driver in the city employ” but he apparently wasn’t hired.  The same paper announced on March 28, 1940 that Jarvie was one of 87 men who had passed an exam qualifying them to be hired by the Trenton Police Department, but the article also noted: “There are no vacancies at this time.”  By 1942, however, Jarvie was working for the De Laval Steam Turbine Company in Trenton.

Jarvie entered the U.S. Army on April 3, 1942.  He was apparently commissioned as an 2nd lieutenant in the Infantry Branch.  Jarvie was described as standing 5 feet, 8¾ inches (175 cm) tall and weighing 145 lbs. (66 kg) when he entered the military.  Little is known about the early part of his service due to the loss of most of his records in the 1973 N.P.R.C. fire.  A document in the records jacket of Baker D. Newton (Special Orders Number 95, Headquarters 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion) shows that by May 28, 1942, 2nd Lieutenant Jarvie was already a member of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He accompanied the unit to England.  As of December 1942, Jarvie was a member of Company “C” under the command of Captain Noble H. Abney.

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Lieutenants Thomas Wright, Joseph Uhler, John Jarvie, and Baker Newton in North Africa circa January 1943 (Courtesy of the Newton family)

The 894th arrived in North Africa in mid-January 1943 and began traveling east to join the Tunisian campaign.  Jarvie was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on January 14, 1943 (although word didn’t reach the unit until March 23, 1944).  The unit first entered combat on February 20, 1943 during the Battle of Kasserine Pass.  The collection of Baker D. Newton (who was executive officer of Company “C” during the battle) includes a tantalizing “Memory List” that was evidentially intended to help organize a memoir he planned to write.  (Unfortunately, Newton apparently only completed the first three pages.)  The list seems to include both memorable events and funny anecdotes.  In a section about the Battle of Kasserine Pass labeled “Counter-attack”, Newton listed:

Sgt. [Clabe] Sherman and his infantry company
Lt. [Joseph] Uhler–Please don’t be a mine here
One night in a mine-field
Smith, J.A. and the lost army
Lt. Jarvie puts us in the wrong bivouac
Recon pinned down, “You’re holding up the war”
Uhler’s cigar

A handwritten annotation indicated that the Smith and Jarvie anecdotes occurred at Sbeitla, Tunisia, but it is unlikely that the details of these stories will ever be known (aside from the first, in which 1st Sergeant Clabe Sherman earned the Distinguished Service Cross).  On February 27, 1943, 1st Lieutenant Newton assumed command of Company “C” after Captain Abney transferred out of the company.  Newton was promoted to captain on May 3, 1943; as Griffin’s August 8, 1943 letter indicated, he was Jarvie’s company commander during the summer of 1943.

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1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie (left) and Captain Baker D. Newton (right) sitting in a jeep with a local civilian in a picture taken in Tlemcen, Algeria in the summer of 1943 (Courtesy of the Newton family)

At the end of May 1943, the 894th moved to Fifth Army Tank Destroyer Training Center near Sebdou and began the process of converting from the M3 to the 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 tank destroyer.  Sebdou was close to where the 32nd Station Hospital was operating in Tlemcen.

Jarvie was popular with the 32nd Station Hospital’s nurses, earning a reputation for his thoughtfulness.  When off duty, he regularly stopped by the hospital with a jeep, often giving Griffin and her friends a ride to nearby towns or the Mediterranean Sea.  Once, even brought back some gazelle meat after going hunting!  As a result, when his unit held a party at a villa in Tlemcen on September 30, 1943, Jarvie was put in charge of getting dates for 35 men—which, based on the Table of Organization (T/O), would have been every officer in his battalion.  He was successful in recruiting nurses for this mission, though he earned himself a lecture when he tried to persuade Lieutenant Colonel Goss to let the nurses stay out after midnight!  Griffin remarked in a letter to her family: “We got 35 nurses to go and that’s the largest [number] we’ve been able to get for anything – you might know J. did the asking.”

1st Lieutenant Jarvie Lieutenant was transferred out of Company “C” on September 13, 1943 and served a stint with the 894th’s Headquarters Company.  Lieutenant Jarvie shipped out for Italy on or around October 14, 1943.  After performing military police duty in Naples, the 894th returned to combat on the Cassino front in late December 1943.  During this period, they were effectively acting as self-propelled artillery rather than in an anti-tank role.

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701st Tank Destroyer Battalion M10s being used as self-propelled artillery in Italy, August 25, 1944 (Signal Corps Photo #421417, National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

Although tank destroyers were designed primarily as a defensive weapon to counter large groups of enemy tanks, they were rarely used in combat that way.  This was evident as early as the Tunisian campaign; in a letter home on May 17, 1943, Captain Newton grumbled:

I’d like to be back at [Camp] Hood, so I could tell the brass hats what we need. They’re preparing us to fight one way. We are used by higher authorities in every other way.

The 894th’s M10s tank destroyers were equipped with a reasonably powerful 3-inch gun.  This cannon was capable of dispatching most contemporary German armored vehicles, although the newer Panther and Tiger tanks were a greater challenge (especially at longer ranges and in instances the enemy could only be attacked from the front, which was protected by heavier armor).  The Tiger’s armor was approximately three times as thick as an M10’s and its powerful 88 mm cannon could have knocked out an M10 from any combat range, regardless of the angle.  The M10 was similarly mismatched against the Panther.

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Diagram of the estimated performance of the cannon used by the M10 (with an armor piercing shell) against the more advanced German tanks at various angles and ranges (Courtesy of The Sherman Tank Site)

Compared to contemporary tanks, the M10 had several vulnerabilities.  In addition to having light armor, the M10’s turret had no roof and lacked periscopes (only the driver and assistant driver had them), making the crew far more vulnerable to artillery and small arms fire during battle.  In contrast, the M-4 medium tank (now popularly known by its British nickname, the Sherman) had an enclosed turret.  The M10 was usually equipped with only a single machine gun (a .50 caliber mounted on the rear of the turret).  The M-4 was also better equipped to deal with enemy infantry, thanks to a .30 machine gun mounted in the hull and another in a co-axial mount with the main gun.  On the defensive, using terrain to their advantage, M10 crews could compensate for their tank destroyers’ weaknesses; when pressed into an offensive role for which they were not designed, they proved vulnerable to Axis tanks, artillery, and infantry.

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This photo was taken at Anzio in early 1944.  From left to right: likely Dr. John W. McLoughlin, John S. Jarvie, Dr. Herbert E. Burnham, and Joseph R. Uhler (Courtesy of the Uhler family)

In early January, the 894th was withdrawn from the Cassino area and shipped to the Anzio beachhead.  Although Lieutenant Jarvie had been doing a stint at Headquarters Company, on February 3, 1944 he rejoined Company “C” as a platoon leader, exchanging places with 2nd Lieutenant Wesley J. Schmidt (1918–1986), who had been wounded in the foot by shrapnel on January 30th.

Lieutenant Jarvie was involved in heavy fighting during the Anzio campaign.  On the night of February 3-4, 1944, German forces launched an attack intended to crush the Campoleone salient, where Company “C” was supporting the British 1st Infantry Division.  Jarvie’s M10 was caught behind enemy lines.

Contemporary news accounts by a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondents differ slightly in the details.  An article by Daniel De Luce of the Associated Press mentioned that “Three tank destroyers […] were temporarily surrounded […] but two fought their way out under command of Lieutenants Herbert M. Siercks, Fremont, Neb., and John S. Jarvie, Trenton, N. J.”  The other article, by Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, stated that Jarvie was trapped with Sergeant Leo E. Dobson (1914–1992).  (One explanation for the discrepancy could be that De Luce intended to write that two or three platoons were caught behind enemy lines, those under the command of Jarvie and Siercks (1916–1986).  A third article written on February 5, 1944 about the exploits of Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion—this one by Reynolds Packard—also described how a platoon including Staff Sergeant John Shoun (1920–2002) “broke through the German ring of tanks and infantry”, so it seems that more than two M10s from the company escaped encirclement that night.)

Bigart’s article focused on Sergeant Dobson’s crew:

Caught three miles inside the enemy lines soon after the enemy’s counter-attack began, they parked in the middle of a field and kept its approaches sprayed with machine gun fire.

From midnight to dawn the 50 caliber machine gun mounted above the open hatch was busy.  Lt. John S. Warvie, [sic] Trenton, N. J., relieved Dobson occasionally while other crew members slept.  T-D people are impervious to noise and although the din was like that of a boiler factory with a war contract, the crewmen dozed during the dull periods.

Some times the Germans tried to come close enough to chuck grenades into the open hatch and tried small arms fire.  Dobson got one at 10 yards.

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Leo Dobson in a detail from a July 3, 1942 photo of Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion taken at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Sergeant Dobson and Jarvie’s crews spent a long night fending off enemy forces after being cut off by a German counterattack north of Anzio. (Courtesy of the Newton family)

On the morning of February 4, 1944 the tank destroyer crews destroyed several German machine gun positions before returning to friendly lines.  After setting up new positions, Companies “B” and “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion were instrumental in defeating German forces near Aprilia (“The Factory”).  According to the S-3 Periodic Report written by Captain Paul A. Baldy (1918–2008) covering the afternoon of Feb 3 through the afternoon of Feb 4, 1944:

The enemy counterattacked very strongly during the period.  “B” & “C” Companies participated very actively in repulsing the attack.  “C” Company destroyed four (4) Mark VI [Tiger] tanks.  These have been confirmed by the British.  One towed AT gun was destroyed while its crew was attempting to get it into firing position.  Two destroyers held off the German infantry with their 50 cal. for two hours.  Many casualties were inflicted.  We lost two M 10’s– destroyed and one captured in this action.  Two enemy occupied houses were also fired into by “C” Company.

Sergeant Dobson’s crew was credited with one of the Tigers and Lieutenant Siercks’s with another.  Lieutenant Jarvie may have been one of the men involved in holding off German infantry, as mentioned in Captain Baldy’s report; a February 6, 1944 article in the Trenton Sunday Times-Advertiser (based on an Associated Press report) stated that:

Liaison officer between American tank destroyers and British infantry, Jarvie, at one critical moment when the tank destroyers were helping the British in the line, manned a .50-calibre anti-aircraft gun on a tank destroyer […] and fired at the advancing rows of Germans.  In order to get the proper angle he had to expose his body from the waist up so that he was vulnerable throughout the nearly half-hour of this kind of fighting, yet he was not even scratched.

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A 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion M10 near Anzio, February 29, 1944.  Note the .50 machine gun mounted on the rear of the turret.  Aside from the crew’s personnel weapons, the machine gun was the M10’s only defense against enemy infantry, but firing it required the soldier to leave the protection of the turret unless the enemy was behind it. (Signal Corps Photo #187823, National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

The battle illustrated what the M10 tank destroyer was capable of under the right conditions, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale than U.S. Army planners originally had envisioned.  That Company “C” had knocked out four Tigers was a significant accomplishment considering the mismatch in their offensive and defensive capabilities.  Once back on the offensive, however, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was frequently pressed into an infantry support role that their vehicles were not designed for.

On March 31, 1944, Captain Newton transferred out of the unit.  Jarvie’s new company commander was 1st Lieutenant Anthony S. Augustaukas, who had previously commanded Company “B.”  Just under two months later, the long-awaited breakout from the Anzio beachhead began.

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Jarvie, probably at Anzio (Courtesy of the Uhler family)

The Fourth Assault on Villa Crocetta

On May 26, 1944, during the breakout from Anzio, Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was assigned to support the 168th Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division during operations against the Caesar Line near Lanuvio, Italy.  On May 28, 1st Battalion of the 168th Infantry Regiment began a series of unsuccessful assaults on a German stronghold known as Villa Crocetta (located at approximately 41° 39′ 45” N, 12° 42′ 49” E along the present day Via di Colle Crocette, southeast of Lanuvio).  The Fifth Army History, summarizing the 168th Infantry Regiment history for May 1944, described it as follows:

On the right the 168th Infantry faced two particularly nasty strongpoints: Gennaro Hill and Villa Crocetta on the crest of Hill 209.  As our troops approached either point, they had to cross open wheat fields on the neighboring hills, then make their way across the draws formed by the tributaries of Presciano Creek, and finally attack up steep slopes to their objectives.  The German line was marked by a trench five to six feet deep which ran across Hill 209 and on past the southern slopes of Gennaro Hill.  Based on this trench and its accompanying dugouts, machine guns were emplaced to command the draws, and mortars were located in close support.  At Hill 209 the enemy also had wire nooses, trip wire, and single-strand barbed wire to break the impact of our charge.

Fifth Army History Part V Map No 14
A map that illustrates the terrain around Villa Crocetta clearly. Company “C” was assigned to 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (the unit icon at the bottom of the map). Oddly, two hills are labeled 203, but the correct one is to the west of Hill 209.  Click here for a larger view. (Fifth Army History)

According to the History of the 168th Infantry Regiment for May 1944, by the afternoon of May 29, 1944, the men of 1st Battalion were close to exhaustion.  They had made two assaults on May 28 and a third on the morning of May 29th.  The battalion was ordered to make a fourth attack on the Villa, which began at 1315 hrs.  Unlike the previous three attacks, this one was made with the “support of four M10 tank destroyers and three light tanks” (possibly from Company “D” of the 191st Tank Battalion).  One of the M10’s was Lieutenant Jarvie’s.  Jarvie’s crew consisted of Sergeant Robert D. Lightsey (gunner), Corporal Elmer F. Park (loader), Corporal John F. Perkins (driver) and Private Reamer H. Conner (assistant driver).

Accounts of the battle are contradictory and the exact sequence of events difficult to put together from existing sources, but the situation was chaotic.  What follows is my best attempt to accurately summarize the day’s events.  Appendixes below contain discussion on some of the mysteries of the day’s events as well as an analysis of the individual source accounts.

Unbeknownst to the officers planning the assault, German strength was higher than anticipated: The 168th Infantry Regiment’s S-3 journal recorded after the attack that an intelligence report (apparently obtained from a prisoner) indicated that the Germans had “8 tanks dug in at Villa Crocetta and a Bn [battalion] in strength defending with a Bn in reserve.”  Eight enemy tanks were simply too much for four M10s to reasonably handle, and the light tanks’ 37 mm cannons would have been of little help against all but the lightest enemy armored vehicles.

Compounding matters was the fact that, according to the 168th regimental history, “After the failure of the third attack on the Villa, [1st Battalion’s] Company ‘A’ and Company ‘C’ were approaching the point of complete demoralization” and most of them refused to advance; only Company “B” made any significant headway against the objective.

In a statement reproduced in Lieutenant Jarvie’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F), Private Reamer H. Conner—assistant driver on Lieutenant Jarvie’s M10—wrote that they had been attacking German infantry when they were notified by radio of an imminent friendly artillery strike; they withdrew and replenished their ammunition supplies from a halftrack commanded by Staff Sergeant West R. Lyon (1916–1988).  Afterward, Conner continued, “We moved up again and we were crossing a ditch and threw a track.  We finally got the track on with a bar, Sergeant Lightsey put a new antenna on (broken one was shot off).”  The 168th Infantry history stated that “Three tank destroyers and two tanks reached the objective, where they split into two groups and advanced up each side of the hill, clearing houses as they went.”

According to a statement by 1st Lieutenant Francis W. Chandler (1917–2002, identified as an eyewitness in a press release by the War Department Bureau of Public Relations, though some aspects of his account are of dubious accuracy) the attack stalled at some point.  Chandler stated that Captain William W. Galt—the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment S-3 (operations officer)—attempted to take charge of assault.  Galt boarded Lieutenant Jarvie’s M10 “and ordered it to [precede] the attack” while personally manning the M10’s .50 caliber machine gun.  Lieutenant Chandler stated that the M10 was fired upon by an anti-tank gun but Jarvie’s crew successfully knocked it out, ostensibly after “Captain Galt directed fire on the gun”.

Private Conner recalled that Jarvie’s M10 advanced through an olive grove and, spotting German soldiers, they “cleaned up the Infantry”.  The German infantry took heavy casualties; Chandler stated that 40 of them were killed by Captain Galt’s fire alone.  Then, around 1420 hrs, about one hour into the attack, disaster struck.  According to the 168th Infantry history, the 1st Battalion’s intelligence officer observed

an estimated company of Germans, supported by four tanks, counter-attacking down the valley with bayonets fixed.  One of the tanks pulled up behind the Villa and fired a shell through the turret of a tank destroyer, killing the battalion operations officer who had been firing the tank destroyer’s 50 callibre [sic] machine gun at the retreating Germans.

Similarly, 1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Wilson (Headquarters Company, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion) wrote that he was told later that Jarvie’s “M10 received a direct hit from a German tank at 40 or 50 yds distance”.

In a statement reproduced in Captain Galt and Lieutenant Jarvie’s I.D.P.F.s, Corporal Perkins recalled that

After we picked up this Infantry Captain, we travelled about one hundred (100) yards before we were hit.  The Captain was standing on the back of the Tank Destroyer when he got killed.  He was firing the .50 caliber.  We were sitting still when the tank [sic] was hit.  The shell came through the turret.  I saw Lt. Jarvie and Sergeant Lightsey fall to the bottom of the turret.  In about four or five seconds, the tank caught fire and I went out the turret on the left side after crawling over them (both of them).  I’m certain that they were both dead.

Private Conner recalled that he was initially unaware that the M10 had been hit:

I thought it was a .50 caliber shooting in our turret at first.  As the hot lead sprayed around, Corporal Perkins shouted that he was hit and told us to get out.  I jumped out when it blazed on the Ass’t. drivers side.  I went out the turret and started running.  Perkins stopped me and put the fire out in my hair.  Then we crept, crawled, and ran to get into a ditch.  Then we crawled over a small hill to where the Infantry was in a wheatfield and then to the next wadi where the medic was.  I don’t remember feeling anything.  I had my eyes closed because it was blazing there and I didn’t want them burnt.

The 168th Infantry Regiment history ruefully noted that the German “counter-attack, supported by tanks, was too strong for the twenty men left to hold the hill.”   The surviving American infantry retreated.

It’s not clear if the same German shell that killed Lieutenant Jarvie and Sergeant Lightsey also claimed the lives of Corporal Park and Captain Galt (whose bodies were located next to the burned out M10), but Corporal Perkins and Private Conner were the only survivors of the crew.  Corporal Perkins later told his family that he and Conner hid from the Germans for a period of time—close enough to them laughing—before they were able to escape back to American lines.

Private Conner was hospitalized for wounds to his head as well as his hands, and Corporal Perkins for wounds to his thoracic wall and hands.  Both men were hospitalized until July 1944.  After discharge from the hospital, both men rejoined the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion and continued to serve through V-E Day.  Captain Galt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The War Department was slow to supply Lieutenant Jarvie and Sergeant Lightsey’s families with information.  By October 16, 1944, the U.S. Army had a sworn statement from Corporal Perkins that he was certain both men were dead, but evidentially that alone was not sufficient grounds to change their status from missing in action to killed in action.  Desperate for more information, Jarvie’s sister-in-law, Helen Webb Jarvie (1912–1998, wife of John’s brother, Walter), wrote John’s former company commander, Captain Baker D. Newton on November 2, 1944:

The War Department says he disappeared May 29th but that is the last we have heard.  John’s mother is living with us & she as well as the rest [of] us are more than anxious about him.  Do you think it is possible he may have been taken prisoner?  Don’t hesitate to tell me what you really think about it, because I’ve almost given up hope.  If he had been taken prisoner I think we would have heard by this time.

Captain Newton had transferred to the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion before the battle and had no information to share with Jarvie’s family.  On November 20, 1944, Captain Newton wrote his mother that

I just wrote to Jarvie’s sister-in-law to tell her about him.  The best I could say was that no one knows that he is dead.  I dread receiving those letters.  I knew exactly what it was about before I opened it and I have to force myself to write them and letters of consolation.

Another letter, which Newton wrote on December 29, 1944, was more pessimistic, either because of the passage of time or because he had learned more from the members of the 894th: “Yes, Jarvie’s sister wrote to me and I had to tell her all that I knew, which was that it was practically hopeless.”

Uhler-Collection-Newton-Jarvie
Captain Baker D. Newton and 1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie, likely taken at Anzio in 1944 (Courtesy of the Uhler family)

Lieutenant Jarvie and Sergeant Lightsey’s remains, initially referred to as Subject Deceased Unknown 53531, were buried in Nettuno, Italy on December 12, 1944 and had been tentatively identified by December 16.  Even so, Jarvie’s family was not notified of his death until around February 26, 1945, when confirmation of the sad news was printed in the Trenton Evening Times.  Jarvie and Lightsey were subsequently reburied at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34, Grave 4845) on January 17, 1950.

One detail not mentioned in Corporal Perkins’s statement was the fact that, as he escaped the burning tank destroyer, he grabbed an identification bracelet that Lieutenant Jarvie was wearing.  Although Perkins told his family that he had hoped to return the bracelet to Jarvie’s family, he was unable to do so during his lifetime.

Jarvie Bracelet New
Jarvie’s identification bracelet (Courtesy of the Padgett family)

In 2008, April Anderson Padgett—the wife of Corporal Perkins’s grandson—began an effort to locate Jarvie’s family.  She began telephoning people in the Trenton area with the last name of Jarvie but did not reach anyone from the right family.  In May 2015, she made a post on Facebook with a photograph of the bracelet.  She encouraged others to share it, and eventually over 2,000 people did.  Although the process took more than a year, the post finally reached one of Lieutenant Jarvie’s great-nephews in July 2016.  He contacted her and arranged for the bracelet’s return to the family.


An Evaluation of the Sources

The above narrative represents my best attempt to merge the various accounts about the fourth assault on Villa Crocetta into a coherent narrative.  The exact sequence of events (and accuracy of some aspects of the accounts) is not entirely certain and these issues will be explored in this appendix.

Eyewitness Accounts: Members of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Copies of these statements from Captain Galt’s I.D.P.F. can be viewed here.

Copies of sworn statements by two surviving members of Jarvie’s crew (Corporal John F. Perkins and Private Reamer H. Conner) were included in Individual Deceased Personnel Files (I.D.P.F.s) for 1st Lieutenant Jarvie and Captain Galt.  There are no differences in the wording of the statements between the Jarvie and Galt I.D.P.F.s.  Some sections of the statements are underlined in the Jarvie I.D.P.F.  The statements are undated in the Jarvie I.D.P.F., but dated October 16, 1944 in Galt’s.

West-Lyon
Lieutenant West R. Lyon (Courtesy of the Lyon family)

I consider the information in these eyewitness statements to be highly accurate, but they do have limitations.  The statements are primarily focused on determining the fate of the missing members of Jarvie’s crew (and the captain whose body was found alongside the M10), not in retelling the events of the entire battle.

Their statements should also be evaluated in the context of the men’s vantage point and duties in the M10.  As driver, Corporal Perkins would have been attuned to how far the vehicle had traveled after Captain Galt joined the crew and I believe the 100 yard figure was probably accurate.  As assistant driver, Private Conner was also the M10’s radio operator, so his recollection of the transmission about the artillery strike should likewise be considered reliable.  Both men were positioned in the forward lower hull of the M10 and given the heavy small arms fire, probably observing the action ahead through their periscopes.  Although they could only have seen the bottom of the turret (by turning around) they would have had some understanding of what the turret crew and Captain Galt were doing based on what they heard them say during the battle.

Captain Galt’s I.D.P.F. has an additional statement not found in Jarvie’s, written by 2nd Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant) West R. Lyon, which states that he observed Captain Galt “approximately three minutes before he was hit” when “he was standing on the M10 firing the machine gun.”  However, he did not witness the M10 being knocked out.  On June 2, 1944, after the area was captured, Sergeant Lyon and the Company “C” executive officer, 1st Lieutenant Captain Thomas K. Leguern, returned to the scene and identified the bodies of Corporal Park and Captain Galt.

Eyewitness Account: 1st Lieutenant Francis W. Chandler

An eyewitness account by 1st Lieutenant Francis W. Chandler was apparently the basis of Captain Galt’s Medal of Honor citation, which followed it verbatim in most cases.  It is not clear exactly when it was written or whether it was edited for public consumption back in 1945.  Until recently, the statement and citation were the only accounts of the events leading to the deaths of Galt, Jarvie, Lightsey, and Park that were readily available to the general public.  They also contain some suspect or inaccurate information.  Understandably, the account was written to portray Captain Galt in the best possible light.  My intention in analyzing the Chandler account is not to suggest that Captain Galt’s actions were not heroic, but rather to point out discrepancies and explain what I believe to be a more accurate account of the events.

“On the morning of May 29,” said Lieutenant Chandler, “the 1st Battalion of the 168th Infantry Regiment was ordered to clear the enemy from Villa Crocetta.

“The Germans were strongly entrenched on commanding heights.  They were in perfect positions to sweep all approaches with withering automatic weapons fire.  Moreover, heavy mortar and artillery fire could be directed from enemy observation posts on the high ground to any of the possible approaches to the German positions.

“Thick nests of snipers and concealed 77-mm and 88-mm guns completed the enemy defenses.

There is no reason to question Chandler’s account of German Caesar Line fortifications near Villa Crocetta (although the smaller caliber guns were presumably 75 mm anti-tank guns), which is consistent with 168th Infantry Regiment and Fifth Army histories.  The 168th Infantry Regiment’s S-3 Journal from the night of May 29, 1944 reported that after the attack, headquarters obtained intelligence (apparently from a prisoner) that the Germans had “8 tanks dug in at Villa Crocetta and a Bn [battalion] in strength defending with a Bn in reserve.”  If accurate, the German defenders would have simply been too strong for a single, already exhausted American infantry battalion to have dislodged, even with armored support.

“Twice the battalion attempted to assault the positions and twice the attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties.  At this point the battalion was vulnerable to the heavy mortar and artillery concentrations that were pounding it.

This wording is a little strange.  Three previous assaults had failed, including two the previous day.  If Chandler was specifically referring to the two assaults which occurred on May 29, 1944, there does not seem to be any evidence in other sources that the afternoon assault had been “repulsed” prior to Captain Galt’s intervention.

“Captain Galt made a personal reconnaissance and ascertained just how critical the situation had become.  He volunteered to reorganize and lead the battalion against the objective.  He went forward and made contact with the only remaining tank destroyer of a platoon that had made the initial assaults with the battalion.

Two important but disputed points, pertaining to whether Captain Galt revived a stalled attack and whether Lieutenant Jarvie’s M10 was the last surviving one, are discussed in the mysteries section below.

“When the crew was reluctant to go forward, Captain Galt jumped on the tank destroyer and ordered it to [precede] the attack.  He manned the .30-caliber machinegun in the turret of the tank destroyer as it moved forward, followed by a company of riflemen.

The issue of whether Lieutenant Jarvie refused to advance is also discussed in further detail in the mysteries section.  A minor point is that Chandler recalled Captain Galt firing a .30 caliber machine gun rather than a .50.  The M10 was typically equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun; Jarvie’s crewmembers’ statements both referred to a .50, not a .30.  When I ran the discrepancy by TankDestroyer.net‘s Rob Haldeman, he remarked that although a number of crews modified their M10s with .30s, he pointed out that Jarvie’s crew would have known what their vehicle was equipped with.

331921-PS-El
Detail from a photo of 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion M10s crossing the Arno on September 1, 1944.  Note that the M10 in the foreground has been modified with a .30 machine gun at the front of the turret.  The vehicle in the background has the standard .50 machine gun mounted on the rear of the turret.  Both vehicles have their turrets turned all the way to the rear to cross the river. (Signal Corps Photo #331921, National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

“On the way the tank destroyer was fired at by a 77-mm antitank gun.  Captain Galt directed fire on the gun and destroyed it.  As they approached the German zigzag system of trenches, he stood fully exposed within the turret despite the enemy bullets which kept ricocheting off the vehicle.

For the second time in his account, Chandler stated that Captain Galt was in the turret, something that was simply not credible.  Indeed, Corporal Perkins stated that Galt was firing the .50 caliber machine gun while standing on the back deck of the M10.  The reason is clear from the mounting of the weapon at the back of the turret.  Ignoring the fact that there were already three men in the small turret, for Captain Galt to have fired the machine gun, the enemy would have had to have been behind the tank destroyer, or the turret rotated all the way around.  Steven J. Zaloga wrote in his book M10 and M36 Tank Destroyers 1942–53, “the traverse of the [M10’s machine] gun was limited to an arc about 125 degrees behind the vehicle due to its awkward location.”

M-10-France
Detail of a photo of an M10 taken in France in August 1944.  Note the soldier manning the .50 machine gun while standing on the back deck, as Captain Galt was in Corporal Perkins’s account. (Wikimedia Commons)

This discrepancy has no bearing on the courage of Captain Galt’s deeds; if anything, he would have been more exposed standing on the back deck than in the turret.  However, it does call into question whether or not Lieutenant Chandler was in a position to closely observe the events he later described.

“He continuously fired the machinegun and threw hand grenades into the enemy trenches with such deadly accuracy and effect that the enemy became disorganized and confused.

“As the tank destroyer continued to approach the enemy positions, Captain Galt so maneuvered it that he succeeded in trapping 40 Germans in one long trench.  When they continued to offer resistance, he pressed his finger to the trigger of machinegun and killed every one of the Germans.

The figure of 40 Germans killed by Captain Galt alone is neither directly supported nor contradicted by other accounts.  Private Conner wrote somewhat tersely that “all the Jerries were [in a trench] and we moved up about 20 yards and cleaned up the Infantry”.  The 168th Regiment history only mentioned that “Fifteen to twenty of the enemy ran out of [a house they were occupying] and were killed by tank and rifle fire.”  It also mentioned that “an estimated number of one hundred Germans ran back over the hill to the northeast, many dropping their weapons as they ran.”  A 34th Infantry Division journal extract in Lessons Learned in Combat 8 November 1942 to 1 September 1944 stated that the entire tank destroyer platoon (which would have included Captain Galt manning the .50 on Jarvie’s M10) killed “an estimated 80 enemy” in the German trenches.

It does seem likely that some degree of spin is at play, however.  If the 168th Regiment history is accurate, Captain Galt was killed while firing “at the retreating Germans.”  German infantry who decided to retreat rather than surrender were entirely legitimate targets.  However, the general public might cringe at the notion that Captain Galt would be decorated for shooting enemy soldiers in the back, some of whom were unarmed.

“He again ordered the tank destroyer to move forward.  A few minutes later an enemy 88-mm shell struck the tank destroyer, fatally wounding all the occupants.  Captain Galt fell over his machine gun, mortally wounded.  He alone was responsible for killing 40 Germans and wounding many more.  His deed paved the way for the eventual capture of Villa Crocetta.”

It seems curious that, if Chandler was among the infantrymen of Company “B” that accompanied Captain Galt and the M10, that he would have been unaware that there were two survivors from the tank destroyer.  Did Lieutenant Chandler observe the action from a distance instead, or is there another explanation?

Corporal Perkins told his family that he and Private Conner hid from the Germans for a period of time until the enemy passed by.  Based on Private Conner’s account, the tank destroyer crewmen might have joined up with 2nd platoon, Company “C” of the 168th Infantry, which the regimental history stated was pinned down in a wheat field.  (Of course, it is unclear exactly how many wheat fields there were in the area.)

It seems puzzling the Chandler wrote that Galt “fell over his machine gun”.  Indeed, his body was located alongside the tank destroyer.  Although the tank destroyer burned, neither of the men who identified his body in the I.D.P.F. mentioned that Galt’s body had sustained any burns.  Theoretically, his body could have been knocked off the M10 by the escaping crew, but again, it calls into question exactly what Lieutenant Chandler’s vantage point was.

Unfortunately, it is also a stretch to suggest that Captain Galt’s “deed paved the way for the eventual capture of Villa Crocetta.”  This was true only in the broadest sense that the German soldiers he killed were unable to resist future assaults.  The attack he led on Villa Crocetta failed, as did an attack by his battalion the following day.

The History of the 168th Infantry Regiment From May 1, 1944 to May 31, 1944

This document can be viewed here.

This report, housed in the National Archives, is a vital document for understanding the assaults on Villa Crocetta.  The attacks are covered in depth and the coordinates provided can be referenced to maps to better visualize how movements unfolded.  The document is concerned with “the big picture” which made it difficult to piece together its narrative with the more narrow focus of the Chandler and 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion personnel accounts.  It mentioned Captain Galt only briefly and not by name.  Undoubtedly concerned with the unit’s reputation, the report explains at great length the reasons why Companies “A” and “C” of 1st Battalion did not contribute significantly to the fourth attack.

One curious aspect is that the report shies away from noting fatalities.  In fact, Galt’s is the only one mentioned from May 29, with the history only adding that “The two attacks on the Villa during the day cost [1st Battalion] forty-two wounded, of which 4 were of Company ‘A’, 9 of Company ‘B’, and 29 of Company ‘C’.”  Captain Galt’s I.D.P.F. mentions that there were at least two other men from the 168th who were killed near Villa Crocetta on the same day as Galt: Private First Class John H. Good and Technical Sergeant Roy K. Jatho.

Fifth Army History (Part V: The Drive to Rome)

The section pertaining to the attacks on Villa Crocetta is a summary of the more detailed account found in the 168th Regiment history, although it does include a useful map.

Seek, Strike, Destroy: The History of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II

I feel a special sense of obligation to Patrick J. Chase for writing this book.  Without it, I probably would never have been able to identify Jack as John S. Jarvie.  The book’s major limitation is that is not a scholarly work and does not cite any sources for its statements.  Chase wrote that:

Company C lost four destroyers to one German gun alone.  Three M10s had already been destroyed when Lieutenant John. S. Jarvie, against his better judgment but following direct orders not to bypass any opposition, took his one remaining destroyer down the winding road.  Lieutenant Jarvie and his entire crew fell victim to the same gun that had gotten the other three.

Contrary to what Chase wrote, there were two survivors from Jarvie’s crew.  Chase placed the event during the breakout from Anzio, which is accurate in a general sense, but several pages before his discussion of the 894th’s role in attacking the German defenses near Lanuvio.  The issue of whether three M10s were indeed lost with Jarvie’s is discussed further below.  It would appear that Chase’s account was based on the recollections of an unidentified veteran of the unit who was fuzzy on the details after so many decades.  Had it been based on the unit’s morning reports, Chase would have known that the event occurred near Lanuvio and that there were survivors.

Morning Reports for Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion 

An excerpt of this document regarding the assault at Villa Crocetta can be viewed here.

Microfilms of these reports are housed at the National Personnel Records Center.  As part of my research into Jarvie, I hired Golden Arrow Research to digitize Company “C” morning reports from December 1942 through June 11, 1944.  These reports cover various personnel changes including arrival, departure, promotion, changes in duty, and casualties.  Unit movement and some combat details were recorded.

The reports let me follow some aspects of the careers of Jarvie and his crew in the 18 months prior to the battle at Villa Crocetta.  It does not offer any new insight on the battle itself beyond establishing that the member of Jarvie’s crew were the only casualties the company sustained on May 29, 1944.  No equipment loses were discussed.  Interestingly, it appears that word did not reach the company until June 2, 1944 (four days after the battle) that Corporal Perkins and Private Conner had survived.

Lessons Learned in Combat 8 November 1942 to 1 September 1944

This document can be viewed here.

This document, compiled by Headquarters 34th Infantry Division, was cited in Harry Yeide’s book The Tank Killers: A History of America’s World War II Tank Destroyer Force.  This source was not in the article as first published and was added in a September 2020 update to the text.  A couple of interesting passages:

In team operation, the tank destroyer should have as its primary mission – support of the tanks.  Because of the assigned primary mission it is equally fallacious for the tank destroyers to assume they cannot act in other roles as it is for the infantry commander to disregard the primary mission entirely.  If in an operation one element of the team is absent or is forced to withdraw, the burst of enemy pressure must be taken up by the other elements regardless of primary role.  In the LANUVIO action the 191st Tank Battalion and 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the Division.  The 191st Tank Battalion having lost most of its officers and experienced tank crews in a previous action was unable to function rendering the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 34th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop the only available forces in a situation demanding heavy armor.

The men of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion would surely have been amused at the revelation that the infantry had just learned that tank destroyers could be pressed into uses outside their primary mission.  Indeed, the battalion had participated in at least four battles (as self-propelled artillery, infantry support, etc.) before engaging enemy tanks.  Still, this passage clearly explains why Jarvie’s platoon was pressed into an infantry support role at Villa Crocetta.  Medium tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion would have led the attack had they not sustained such heavy losses.

The document also quotes the Journal, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, 34th Infantry Division:

The LANUVIO action holds particular interest in that in the absence of tanks, and in a situation demanding heavy armor, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was employed in a tank role.  The success with which the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion played its part aided materially in the capture of the Division objective.

Continually disposed in the front lines as close support of the infantry, the battalion undertook many small unit operations completely foreign to its normal role.  In the initial assault on VILLA CROCETTA, May 29, one platoon of Company “C” criss-crossed an enemy zig-zag trench system firing its machine guns down the trench and killing an estimated 80 enemy for the loss of one M-10 tank destroyer with crew.

This is a fascinating passage.  In this context “initial assault” refers not to the first assault on Villa Crocetta but the first assault in which armor supported the infantry.  In this account, like that in the 168th Infantry Regiment history, Jarvie’s entire platoon reached the objective, not just his M10.  The wording is actually quite similar to that of Captain Galt’s Medal of Honor citation, albeit with the credit going to the 894th.

Sources Not Examined

Perhaps the most critical missing documentation is the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion records for May and June 1944, which disappeared shortly after the war.  If not returned to the archives (or misfiled), it is possible that they still exist and will eventually come to light.

As an amateur historian, there was also a limit to the time and money I could devote to this particular mystery.  I’m fortunate to live about two hours from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, which has allowed me to obtain information from unit records for the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion and 168th Infantry Regiment on file there.  However, obtaining I.D.P.F.s and company morning reports from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri (the latter of which requires either a trip in person or hiring a private research company) comes with significant cost.

I did not purchase I.D.P.F.s for Sergeant Lightsey or Corporal Park, since I believe it unlikely that they would provide any new information.  I also did not purchase morning reports from the 168th Infantry Regiment, which would have given me a better understanding of casualties the infantry sustained that day and potentially told me who 1st Lieutenant Francis W. Chandler was.

I have no idea what records may exist on the German side; the Fifth Army history described them as “the remnants of the 362d Grenadier Division”.  I consider it well beyond my present research abilities to find such records.


Mysteries and Contradictions

Did Captain William W. Galt get a stalled attack going again?

1st Lieutenant Francis W. Chandler’s account, the basis for Captain Galt’s Medal of Honor citation, stated that during the fourth assault on Villa Crocetta, “Captain Galt made a personal reconnaissance and ascertained just how critical the situation had become.  He volunteered to reorganize and lead the battalion against the objective.”  Chandler’s account took pains to justify awarding Captain Galt the nation’s highest military honor and may also have sought to explain Galt’s personal intervention.

Then-Staff Sergeant West R. Lyon later recalled that Captain Galt observed the action for about an hour prior to joining the attack himself.  Private Reamer H. Conner’s account suggested a pause in the attack due to an imminent friendly artillery strike.  Neither account suggests that the attack had stalled; they neither support nor refute the notion that Captain Galt personally turned around a “critical” situation.  It seems likely that the American forces would have been wary of advancing, especially given that the 168th Regiment history blamed the failure of previous assaults of Villa Crocetta in part on the fact that “Each of the companies had once been on the objective but had been driven off by friendly artillery fire.”  The regimental history recorded that most of Companies “A” and “C” did not advance during the fourth attack.  However, the history gave no indication that Company “B” (which Captain Galt was accompanying) lost momentum until subjected to the German counterattack.

A man of great personal courage, it’s not inconceivable that Captain Galt could have ordered the advance to continue sooner than the soldiers he was accompanying would have liked, especially if shells were still falling.  However, it is unclear whether or not the attack would continued when it did without his efforts.

Did Jarvie initially refuse orders to advance towards the end of the assault?

Chandler wrote:

“When the crew was reluctant to go forward, Captain Galt jumped on the tank destroyer and ordered it to [precede] the attack.  He manned the .30-caliber machinegun in the turret of the tank destroyer as it moved forward, followed by a company of riflemen.

Every historical account should be evaluated in the context of the writer’s agenda and biases.  Lieutenant Chandler’s account was intended to portray Captain Galt in the best possible light, though he did so by calling the M10 crew’s courage into question.  Galt’s Medal of Honor citation is even stronger in that regard, wording it as “When the lone remaining tank destroyer refused to go forward[…]”

One of my goals in researching 1st Lieutenant Jarvie was to honor him by telling his story; my first reaction is that the citation and Chandler’s account were unfair to him.  Trying to look objectively at the evidence, I must admit that I have very limited information about Lieutenant Jarvie’s combat prowess.  The only known accounts of his performance in battle are a pair of contemporary newspaper accounts and his I.D.P.F.  It was certainly true that he and his crew were in the thick of the fighting that day, or they wouldn’t have needed to replenish their ammunition or repair a radio antenna shot away by enemy fire.

It is also entirely possible that Lieutenant Jarvie did indeed balk at advancing further, but that his judgment was sound.  In combat, there is a fine line between courage and foolhardiness.  Jarvie’s M10 was unsuited for the role it was being pressed into and only a third of the infantry assigned to the attack had made it into position to support him.  There was also the possibility that he wanted to be sure the friendly artillery fire (which had been poorly coordinated with previous assaults) had lifted.  If Jarvie was reluctant to advance, subsequent events would seem to have vindicated him.

Another possibility is that the detail about the hesitation by Jarvie and his crew is exaggeration intended to explain why Captain Galt boarded the tank destroyer in the first place.  The citation implies that Captain Galt was single-handedly inflicted all enemy casualties himself (except the anti-tank gun that he pointed out), with the tank destroyer crew and infantry just along for the ride.

For Chandler to know that Jarvie initially balked at advancing, he would have had to have heard Jarvie and Galt’s conversation (or at least seen their gestures, if he was observing it from a distance).  The errors in Chandler’s account, however, call into question exactly how much he observed of Captain Galt’s actions during the battle.  West R. Lyon’s account mentioned that “Lieutenant Jarvie and I and Captain Galt and another 1st Lieutenant (who later took over in Captain Galt’s place), moved out and attacked the hill”, implying that all four had been in discussion immediately beforehand.  Was Chandler that unidentified officer?

Was Jarvie’s M10 the last surviving tank destroyer from his platoon?

Lieutenant Chandler wrote that Captain Galt “went forward and made contact with the only remaining tank destroyer of a platoon that had made the initial assaults with the battalion.”  Interestingly, this is consistent with Patrick J. Chase’s account in Seek, Strike, Destroy (notwithstanding the errors discussed above):

Company C lost four destroyers to one German gun alone.  Three M10s had already been destroyed when Lieutenant John. S. Jarvie, against his better judgment but following direct orders not to bypass any opposition, took his one remaining destroyer down the winding road.  Lieutenant Jarvie and his entire crew fell victim to the same gun that had gotten the other three.

However, this would seem to be at odds with the 168th Regiment history, which stated that “Three tank destroyers and two tanks reached the objective, where they split into two groups and advanced up each side of the hill, clearing houses as they went.”  The history doesn’t mentioned any of the M10s being damaged or destroyed aside from Jarvie’s, though the account’s focus is on the infantry.

Similarly, a passage in the 34th Infantry Division document Lessons Learned in Combat 8 November 1942 to 1 September 1944 stated: “one platoon of Company ‘C’ criss-crossed an enemy zig-zag trench system firing its machine guns down the trench and killing an estimated 80 enemy for the loss of one M-10 tank destroyer with crew.”

Unfortunately, most of 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion’s records from May and June 1944 went missing shortly after the war, making it difficult to check the accuracy of Chandler and Chase’s accounts.  Though surviving company morning reports sometimes documented when tank destroyers were lost, no vehicle losses were specifically documented in the morning reports in late May signed by the Company “C’ C.O, 1st Lieutenant Anthony S. Augustaukas.  At least one other Company “C” M10, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Herbert M. Siercks, is known to have been disabled by an anti-tank gun on May 29, 1944.  (It is unclear if that occurred during the same assault on Villa Crocetta or another Caesar Line fortification nearby.)  However, the only casualties that Lieutenant Augustaukas documented as occurring on May 29, 1944 were the five members of Lieutenant Jarvie’s crew.  It would seem miraculous, but not necessarily impossible, for three other M10s to be disabled or knocked out without injury to their crews.

In the event that Jarvie’s platoon did not suffer any other loses, it could simply have been that Jarvie’s M10 was the only one Chandler was aware of in the immediate vicinity.  This may have been because the armor had split into groups (as mentioned in the 168th Regiment history).  An alternative explanation is that Jarvie’s M10 could have been separated from the other armor while repairing their track (as mentioned in Private Conner’s account).


Jarvie’s Crew

This section presents short biographies (arranged in alphabetical order by last name) of the men who fought aboard Jarvie’s M10 tank destroyer during his final battle on May 29, 1944.  Each entry begins with the soldier’s full name, service number, and dates of birth and death.

Reamer Henry Conner, 33459662 (March 17, 1923 – September 11, 1998)

Conner was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, the son of Arthur and Genevieve Conner.  When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, he was described as standing 5 feet, 4 inches (163 cm) tall and weighing 120 lbs. (54 kg) with blonde hair and gray eyes.  At the time, he was employed by A.C.F. in Berwick, Pennsylvania.  He was drafted and entered the U.S. Army on January 9, 1943 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.  His civilian occupation was listed as “Semiskilled warehousing, storekeeping, handling, loading, unloading, and related occupations”.  He went overseas on May 14, 1943.

Private Conner joined Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion while it from the 1st Replacement Depot on June 25, 1943.  The unit was at the Fifth Army Tank Destroyer Training Center near Sebdou, Algeria at the time.  He was initially trained as an assistant gunner (loader) but his duty was changed to rifleman on September 4, 1943.  He must have changed duty again prior to May 29, 1944, when he was serving as assistant driver on Lieutenant Jarvie’s M10.  He and Corporal Perkins were the only survivors of the crew, but both were wounded after the vehicle was hit.

Private Conner was hospitalized with wounds to his head and hands until July 1944.  He rejoined the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion and remained with the unit through the end of the war in Europe.  According to a list in Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy, Private Conner’s duty was jeep driver as of May 1945.  He returned to the United States on August 1, 1945 and was discharged from the U.S. Army on October 8, 1945 at Camp Hood, Texas.

After the war, he ran a service station, worked as a mechanic, sold used cars, and worked as a letter carrier.  He and his wife Velma, better known as Page (1930–1981), raised three daughters.   He later remarried to Nancy L. Conner (1929–2018).

William Wylie Galt, O-446805 (December 19, 1919 – May 29, 1944)

WilliamWGalt
William W. Galt seen here as a lieutenant in the 168th Infantry Regiment.  A document in his I.D.P.F. stated that “Capt. Galt was believed to have possessed one of the few sets of cross-rifle insignias with ‘168’ above.” (Courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society)

Captain Galt was not technically a member of Lieutenant Jarvie’s crew, but I am memorializing him here because he died fighting alongside them.

Galt was born in Geyser, Montana, the son of Errol and Florence Galt.  His nickname (at least used by his father) was Billy.  He was Catholic.  Galt graduated from Great Falls High School in 1937.  According to a press release by the War Department Bureau of Public Relations,

Since boyhood, Captain Galt’s hobby had been training horses.  Before he entered college, he spent a year and a half as a ranch foreman.  During summer vacations, in his high school and college years, he was a rodeo performer, often winning prize money in competition with veteran buckaroos.

Galt studied animal husbandry at Montana State College, where he was a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet, a member of Scabbard and Blade, and played varsity football.  He was commissioned in the U.S. Army after graduating from college.  2nd Lieutenant Galt went on active duty on June 25, 1942.  According to an August 2, 1942 article in The Great Falls Tribune, while stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, Lieutenant Galt married a college classmate, Patricia Ann Sandbo (later Hansen, 1920–2013) in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 24, 1942.  He went overseas in October 1942 and joined the 34th Infantry Division.  Lieutenant Galt fought in North Africa, where he was wounded.  According to a press release by the War Department Bureau of Public Relations, Galt “was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 5, 1943, and to Captain on January 5, 1944.”  The release added:

He won the Silver Star in Italy in November, 1943, when, upon his own initiative, he advanced on hands and knees through a mined area, selecting a safe route of advance to his battalion’s objective.  On January 27, 1944, he was seriously wounded in action, returning to duty three weeks later.

On the afternoon of May 29, 1944, Captain Galt was serving as S-3 (operations officer) in 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment.  2nd Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant) West R. Lyon of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion later recalled:

I met Captain Galt about three times on previous occasions, but on that day (the day he was killed, 29 May 1944), I was introduced to him.  We talked the situation over for about a good hour.  Lieutenant Jarvie and I and Captain Galt and another 1st Lieutenant (who later took over in Captain Galt’s place), moved out and attacked the hill and approximately three minutes before he was hit he was standing on the M-10 firing the machine gun.  About ten minutes later the tank was burning.  No one was one it.

After his death on May 29, 1944, Captain Galt was initially buried in the cemetery in Nettuno, Italy near Corporal Park.  Captain Galt was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on January 4, 1945; the medal was presented to his family on February 19, 1945.  His remains were disinterred in 1948 and reburied at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Great Falls, Montana.

Robert Durward Lightsey, 34051486 (November 26, 1911 – May 29, 1944)

Newton-Collection-894th-Company-C-Panorama-Robert-Lightsey-Retouched
Corporal Robert D. Lightsey in a detail from a July 3, 1942 group photo of Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (Courtesy of the Newton family)

Lightsey was born in Avon Park, Florida, the son of R.T. Lightsey.  When he registered for the draft, he was described as standing 5 feet, 9 inches (175 cm) tall and weighing 148 lbs. (67 kg) with black hair and blue eyes.  He was living in Okeechobee, Florida and self-employed.  He apparently went by his middle name.  He is almost certainly the Durwood Lightsey listed on the 1930 census as living with Robert (a farmer) and Olive Lightsey in Okeechobee, though his age was recorded one year off.  He married Laura Cochran (1921–1978) on December 18, 1941.

Lightsey was drafted and entered the U.S. Army at Camp Blanding, Florida on April 10, 1941.  His enlistment data described his education as four years of high school and occupation as “semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor”.  By July 3, 1942, he had been promoted to the rank of corporal and was a member of Company “C,” 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He went overseas to England with the rest of the unit in early August 1942.  During the Tunisian campaign, he was promoted to sergeant effective April 9, 1943.  A June 26, 1943 document indicated that he was elevated from assistant section leader to section leader.

Sergeant Lightsey was serving as 1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie’s gunner during the fourth assault on Villa Crocetta.  He and Jarvie were killed instantly when the turret of their M10 was struck by an armor-piercing shell.

1st Lieutenant Jarvie and Sergeant Lightsey’s remains were originally buried together in Nettuno, Italy.  After identification, they were subsequently reburied at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34, Grave 4845) on January 17, 1950.

Elmer Franklin Park, 34051507 (June 21, 1919 – May 29, 1944)

Newton-Collection-894th-Company-C-Panorama-Elmer-Park-Retouched
Technician 5th Grade Elmer F. Park in a detail from a July 3, 1942 group photo of Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (Courtesy of the Newton family)

Park was born in Hooker, Georgia, the son of Walter and Bernice Park.  When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was living in Miami Springs, Florida and working for R.I. Dickerson Painting & Decorating Co. in Miami.  He was described as standing 6 feet, 2 inches (188 cm) tall and weighing 158 lbs. (72 kg), with blonde hair and blue eyes.  When he entered the military, his civilian occupation was recorded as “semiskilled painters, construction and maintenance.”  He was drafted and entered the U.S. Army at Camp Blanding, Florida on April 11, 1941.

By December 25, 1941, Private Park had been assigned to the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia and was a member of Company “C.”  He had been promoted to technician 5th grade by July 3, 1942, when he appeared in a group photo at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He went overseas to England and then North Africa with the unit.  At the end of May 1943, he remained on detached service in Bizerte, Tunisia with a handful of other enlisted men while the rest of the unit headed to the Fifth Army Tank Destroyer Training Center near Sebdou, Algeria to begin converting from the M3 to M10 tank destroyer.  Park rejoined the main body of the unit on July 5, 1943.  Four days later, for unknown reasons, he and three other N.C.O.s from the Bizerte detail were demoted to private.

Park remained with the 894th when it shipped out to Italy.  He was promoted twice during the Anzio campaign: to private first class on March 11, 1944 and then corporal on May 16, 1944.

During the fourth assault on Villa Crocetta, he was serving as loader in Jarvie’s M10 tank destroyer.  It is not clear how he was killed, since his body was found alongside the tank destroyer and not inside it.  He may have been hit by enemy fire while escaping after the M10 was hit.  Corporal Park’s body was initially buried in the American Military Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, but he was reburied at the Miami City Cemetery in 1948.

John Furman Perkins, 34082317 (May 16, 1908 – November 23, 1984)

Newton-Collection-894th-Company-C-Panorama-John-Perkins-Retouched
Private John F. Perkins in a detail from a July 3, 1942 group photo of Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (Courtesy of the Newton family)

Perkins was born in Jefferson, Georgia, the son of Clarence Eugene and Nonia Perkins.  When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was living in Hephzibah, Georgia.  He was working as a laborer or farmhand for John E. Rhodes.  He was described as stranding 6 feet (183 cm) tall and weighing 165 lbs. (75 kg), with blonde hair and brown eyes.  Perkins was drafted and entered the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia on April 26, 1941.

Private Perkins was assigned to Company “C”, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion after December 25, 1941 but prior to July 3, 1942, when he appeared in a unit photo at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He went overseas with the unit in August 1942.  He was promoted to corporal prior to December 21, 1942.  An entry in the Company “C” morning report that day records a change in duty from assistant section leader to recon corporal.  According to the Tank Destroyer Field Manual (dated June 16, 1942):

The reconnaissance corporal assists the platoon leader in reconnoitering routes and positions.  When not engaged in reconnaissance, be usually acts as an observer for the platoon leader.  He keeps the position of the platoon and other relevant data posted on the platoon leader’s map.

In that role, he would have worked closely with Lieutenant Jarvie or one of the company’s other platoon leaders.  A September 4, 1943 document recorded that Corporal Perkins’s duty switched from recon corporal to chauffeur (wheeled vehicle driver).  He must have changed duty again after that, since he was the driver of Jarvie’s M10 on May 29, 1944.  He and Private Conner were the only survivors of the crew.

Corporal Perkins was hospitalized with wounds to his thoracic wall and hands until July 1944, but subsequently returned to the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  He remained with the unit through V-E Day.  According to a list in Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy, Corporal Perkins’s duty was halftrack driver as of May 1945.

Perkins returned to Georgia after the war, where he was a sharecropper.  He and his wife Annie Lou (1927–2014) raised three daughters.


Jack Excerpts from the Griffin Collection

These are the excerpts from Alice Griffin letters that mention Jack.  The excerpts are often abridged beyond how the original letters were published.  The dates of the letter links to the full letter from the Griffin Collection for greater context.  Omissions are indicated by “[…].”  The letters themselves are within blockquotes.  (Depending on the viewing format, this may cause them to display indented, or italicized with a bar on the left side.)  Due to formatting issues with webpages, paragraphs are presented without the original indentations and with gaps between paragraphs not found in the originals.  My introductory remarks are bolded and italicized.

June 3, 1943

The man who gave Griffin the ring in the following excerpt isn’t specifically identified, but was likely Jack, based on a July 12 V-mail to her sister, Catherine, which mentioned Jack had given her a ring sometime earlier.  Or, there were just an awful lot of officers in North Africa who liked giving Griffin rings!

[I] got another present yesterday – a very lovely real gold ring with an old fashioned ladies head on it. It is very odd and very nice.  The night before last Jimmie, Ruth, Wanda and I went out with four officers and they were really very nice and we had a swell time – singing & acting crazy.  They came down again yesterday at noon to ask us if we’d go out tonight and we told them yes.  My friend shook hands when he left and in my hand was a ring box with the ring – – I didn’t want to take it but he said he bought it for me and wanted me to.  I have it on so I think I’ll send my silver one home- I don’t want to wear two. – – so look in the box.

June 6, 1943

Although usually used as shorthand for “olive drab” in Griffin’s letters, O.D. in this context would mean “on duty.”

I’m working tonight 12 to 7.30 and I’m not a bit sleepy.  The nurse who is usually on got sick and as my date couldn’t come because he had to be O.D., I volunteered to work – I’ll have all day tomorrow off and Jack will come tomorrow afternoon.  He really is a very nice boy but he’s only here for a week or two – curses on the luck.  If he comes early enough tomorrow, we can perhaps go swimming.

June 8, 1943 (V-mail)

The “ring man” may be Jack or another unidentified man mentioned previously in the June 3 letter.  

It’s hotter than Boston ever was.  Have been out with my ring man twice since then – I think he’s pretty nice- but he’s 60 miles away & can’t come much.

June 12, 1943 (Letter)

Jack couldn’t come down last night so I was in bed at 9 p.m. and wide awake for church at six.  It’s so hot now that you feel like a drowned rat and all tired out by 5 p.m.  Hope the next place will be cooler.  Honestly we’re never satisfied but when the temp is 90° at 2 a m in the mts, it’s something.

June 15, 1943 (V-mail)

The lobby mentioned in this V-mail is presumably that of the 32nd Station Hospital officers’ quarters at the Hotel Transatlantique. 

This is the only instance when Griffin directly addressed Jack’s feelings for her.  Perhaps for that reason, it is also the first instance of Griffin telling her family that, in regard to the relationship, “in Africa things are different”.  Griffin used some variation on this phrase several more times, apparently to communicate to her curious family that the relationship wasn’t that serious.  The phrase, which has a vaguely “What happens in Vegas” vibe to it, suggested that Griffin saw the relationship as two people enjoying companionship under the extraordinary circumstances of being overseas during wartime, but that she did not see a future between them.

Jack came over last night and we had a swell time dance in the lobby to the Victrola. He likes slow waltzes so naturally I like the way he dances. He’s really very nice and says he is very much in love with me but in Africa things are different although I do like him more than anyone I’ve ever met and I only see him twice a week.

June 15, 1943 (Letter)

Washed my beige dress the other day & it came out swell but I didn’t notice grease on the back of it until it was all ironed.  The grease is from Jack’s jeep – which has been all around the fighting line so I don’t wonder it’s dirty.  He usually makes sure that the seat is well covered but one night we dashed out for lemons & I didn’t bother waiting.  Jeanne – the maid here is going to fix it now.

June 17, 1943

The villa mentioned in this V-mail might be Villa Rivaud (later a common venue for social engagements) but that’s not confirmed.  Ella “Jimmie” James and Ruth Donovan, Griffin’s closest friends in the unit, teased her about Jarvie, as related in the following passage.

Did I mention that we are having a dance tomorrow night – just 15 couples and it’s going to be at a villa at the top of a mountain.  Jack’s company is giving it and naturally he will be here.  I told Jimmie & Ruth I was going to kick them right in the pants because now I can’t even sing a song without them saying “Is that for Jack”?  And you know how much I love to sing.

June 19, 1943

This V-mail describes the party mentioned in the previous V-mail.  It mentions fellow nurses Ruth Donovan, Ella James, Kathleen Donahue, and Wanda Dabrowski.

We had a very nice dance last night – Ruth – Jimmie – Kay D – Wanda & I all went.  There were about 15 couples & we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.  It was given at a villa way up in the mts.  Jack was over and now he’s gone – so that’s the end of a very nice companion– – so this is war and things just go over – wonder who I’ll meet next that I like as well.

June 22, 1943

Griffin told a slightly different version of the amusing story recorded in this letter—about her inadvertently scheduling a date with two Tank Destroyer officers at the same time—in another letter, written on October 24, 1943.  In the later telling, she specifically identified Jack as the second officer involved.  Also, though Ruth Donovan threw her to the wolves in the June version of the story, in the October telling, Ruth eventually helped Griffin get each of the men alone to smooth things over by scheduling new dates.

Had myself in a fix yesterday and Ruth just laughed & wouldn’t help me out.  A boy from the TDs who I’ve been out [with] a few times came in & asked me if I’d go to a dinner dance with him – all the kids were going so I said yes.  We were sitting in the lobby talking with another boy from another TD outfit came in – I had forgotten that he was coming down – it was really very unexpected and embarrasing. [sic]  So I went into Ruth & told her my troubles & she howled her head off and said “Now you figure it out – you [all?] laughed at Jimmie, Dot & I enough.”  So out I went again and we went up town – all this time one glaring at the other.  Came back for mess & the kids all smirking when I went into the mess hall with them.  So finally I got the first one aside – told him I couldn’t go to the dance but if he could come down Wed afternoon I’d spend my p.m. with him (a great honor) and maybe we could get transportation to the beach.  So that took care of that situation.  But now he’s coming Wed the other one is coming Friday again & all I want to do is go to bed early and tell all men to go to Hell for a while.  First we all go out for a couple of weeks and then you can’t drag us out of our rooms – I tell you we’re crazy.  We hate to refuse because everyone has been swell to us but there has to be an ending some time — can’t work & play too for a very long stretch.

Undated Letter (Almost Certainly July 6, 1943)

The following excerpt mentions a formal planned for the 32nd Station Hospital officers’ quarters at the Hotel Transatlantique.  The letter indicates the last was prior to Colonel Theodore Burstein suffering a heart attack in April 1943.  Although Griffin’s June 15, 1943 V-mail indicated that she had doubts about the future of her relationship with Jarvie, this is the first instance in which she told her family that they would not see one another after his departure from Algeria. 

We’re having a formal Sat – our first at the Hotel since our first col got sick quite a few months ago.  Boy will I be dressed up– –  Jack is coming & I know we will have a swell time.  I’m glad they didn’t go out before because I sure have a wonderful time with him & he is just grand.  And as I won’t seem [sic] him after he leaves this area I’m always glad to see him.  I had a date with him six months after the armistice was signed but I cancelled that & told him it would end in Africa.  Some day I will show you his picture.

July 11, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail was sent to Griffin’s sister, Margaret, and her family.  With only one side of the correspondence, we are let to imagine what upset Griffin’s mother about Jack.

The letter also mentions the sirocco, a hot desert wind.

Muth must be all upset about Jack from the V mail I received – – the kids howled – wait until I tell him because I told him that Muth would throw him out if he came around – – I wouldn’t though.  It’s hot as Hell here – the sirrocco [sic] has hit.  It will last 3 days to three week – if it doesn’t stop in 3 – weeks, it will last 6 wks – then 9 – Glory be to God if it ever lasts nine – even three we’ll just have to drag ourselves around.

July 11, 1943 (Third V-mail)

In the following excerpt from a letter to her mother, Griffin shut down her mother’s prying about Jack, by telling her again that she “won’t see him after he leaves this area.”  Throughout the extant correspondence, she would only waiver from that position once.  The letter mentions Ruth Donovan and Emelda Dickson.

Nothing to “fess up” about Jack except that I won’t see him after he leaves this area.  I do like him very much but still say this is Africa.  He came down yesterday about four and took Ruth, Dixie and I swimming – then for a cold glass of wine.  Then home – I got dressed and he & I went to eat then way up on the mt. to see the sunset – (beautiful) then to a villa dancing.  I wore my new dress (OD).  Had a wonderful time.  So don’t worry about your little Alice.  Love A.

July 12, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s mother and mentions Ella James and Dr. Irving Weiner.  It’s not clear who Lieutenant Long was, since this is not a name that appeared on any 32nd Station Hospital roster.  He might have been introduced in another letter, now lost.  However, there was a Lieutenant William C. Long, Jr. who served in Jack’s unit, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

Lt-Long-894th
Message sent by Lieutenant Long to the commanding officer of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion during combat near Anzio on February 5, 1944 (National Archives)

Went to bed at 1030 today & at 12 the kids woke me up- – Jack had a day off and was down to take me out.  First we ate and then went to the pool swimming, then we shopped for things for his niece and three nephews – then we picked Ruth up and went swimming again – also Lt. Weiner, Jimmie & Lt. Long – we sure had fun.  Then we all went to the French officers club for cold beer (2½ 7°) then out to eat and back on duty.  One of the most pleasant days in a long time.  Jack is really the best pal I’ve found here.

July 12, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s sister, Catherine, and contains more detail about the pool.  The ring is probably the same one mentioned in the June 3, 1943 letter.  It’s not known who Jarvie’s “two pals” mentioned in the letter were, but an August 7 outing involved Captain Baker D. Newton and Lieutenant Warner Hale.

Jack has another present for me – don’t know what it is but I killed him for getting it– it’s something from Oudjda.  The ring he gave me is real gold & very lovely – I killed him for getting that but he just laughed and said he liked to buy things for me.  Hope he doesn’t leave for a while because we get along swell and after he goes, I shan’t see him any more – – fun while it lasted though..  When Jack’s two pals come down – Jimmie – Ruth join us & the six of us have so much fun – swimming dancing etc.

July 15, 1943

This letter is the earliest in the collection that has words cut out by the base censor.  Griffin finally had an occasion to wear her new gown at an outing; the hotel mentioned is undoubtedly the 32nd Station Hospital’s officer’s billet, the Hotel Transatlantique.  It’s curious that, apparently, the Sebdou area was on a different time zone.  Today, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are all on the same time zone.

The dance was a huge success last night – it was to celebrate our six mths foreign service.  I was complimented time & again on how nice I looked – – thanks to you people.  Dot – Ruth, Jimmie & I went up [censored, about three or four words] first time with Jack & 3 other boys – we ate there & then all had champagne to celebrate our six months – Dot just took a sip – she doesn’t like it.  We ate there & were the French women & officers ever complimenting our gowns.  Then back to the Hotel for the dance which ended @ 12.30 then Jack & I went back up to the [censored, one or two words].  After all I have just one night a week off & I’m not going to bed at 1230 and Jack’s time is an hour behind our so he had only 11.30.  Went to bed at 4 and got up at 12 – went swimming & then came back to bed at 3..  That pool certainly is a God send —don’t really know what we’d do without it.

[…]

Jack’s outfit is giving a dinner tomorrow night for 12 officers in his outfit that were promoted.  They want 15 nurses so Claire – Jimmie – Ruth – Dot – Virg & K Donahue – Wanda & I head the list – per usual.  One of the girls said she’d gladly relieve me so I can go until 11pm – not bad, huh?  I’ve been on ten nights now & although I am quite busy so the time goes fast, I still don’t like it.

July 22, 1943

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator gives some pretty astounding figures for the prices Griffin named in the letter in equivalent December 2019 values: $103.38 to $118.15 for one of Jack’s visits (maybe he had to purchase his own fuel if he wasn’t on official business?); $97.47 for a bottle of champagne; $88.61 for a meal; between $221.53 and $265.84 for a couple to have a night out; $14.77 for a watermelon!  Of course, as Griffin pointed out, the fact that the U.S Army provided all necessary food, housing, and transportation somewhat compensated for the high prices of goods.

Had gazelle on my night off – was it ever swell.  Jack shot 10 & brought some of the meat down & we took it up to a villa & cooked it.  Had cuke & tom salad [with] it – darn good – also had champagne.  As I told Gertrude, every time he comes down it costs him 7 or 8 dollars & he’s down twice a week.  Everyone spends money like water over here.  Now Champagne is 330 francs per bottle – that’s $6.60 – a meal is about 300 francs – that’s 6.00 – so for two people a night, it’s about 15 to $18.00 and it means nothing at all here – – we never have to pay for anything ourself [sic] thought – except laundry & fruit & vegetables – that’s where all our money goes.  Watermelons are 50 francs ($1.00) melons are the same – all things are very high & adds to a lot.

July 25, 1943

The following paragraph was important clue to identifying Jack, since the reference to him having an M10 proved he was an officer in a Tank Destroyer unit, something hinted at in the June 22, 1943 letter.  That he had his own M10, combined with a later clue (in a letter written circa August 8, 1943) that he had a company commander, strongly suggested that he was a platoon leader.

Tues night I’m off again so Tues afternoon I’m going to the desert to visit Jack’s place & ride in his M10 – the last ride didn’t materialize[,] hope this one does – in fact I know it will.  His whole outfit has been restricted since last Tues because 4 of their enlisted men caused a riot by peeking under the Arabs head covers.  We sure have missed them because the 32nd goes out with the group of them – we take over the different outfits as they come & go but we like this one best.

July 26, 1943

The T/O of a Tank Destroyer battalion would be closer to 700 men (though Jack’s company’s ranks did swell above normal during the training near Sebdou, so she might not have been that far off).

Tomorrow night is my night off so I am going out to Jack’s outfit tomorrow night for dinner – two women & a thousand some odd men – wow.

Undated Letter (Probably July 28, 1943)

This letter was only dated “Wednesday” but seems to be a follow-up to the July 25 letter.  She described the M10s as a tanks rather than tank destroyers.  That’s an understandable simplification (one sometimes even used by Tank Destroyer men themselves).  The M10 was designed around the M4 medium tank’s lower hull and had a turret, like an ordinary tank. 

Hagelshaw-Negatives-M10s-Crop
M10 tank destroyers being transported through the streets of an Algerian city (probably Tlemcen) circa May 1943.  Several Tank Destroyer units were located near the 32nd; the Fifth Army had a training center for them nearby, outside Sebdou. (Courtesy of the Hagelshaw family)

The letter also provided an important clue for determining Jack’s unit: Griffin stated that his unit fought at Kasserine Pass and Bizerte during the Tunisian campaign.

Couldn’t ride a tank yesterday – it’s forbidden now for girls, but I did go to the desert & had a very nice time.  It’s very quiet out there –I arrived at 10 (their time) 11 ours and read until one – it was so nice & quiet I could have stayed there a couple of days.  It’s not the real sandy desert so there were some scrub trees there.  I sat in the shade of one of them – the sun is extremely hot but there’s always a breeze and the men said it got very cold at night.  The Col. let J have the afternoon off & as they are still off limits to our town, we had to find another town.  We picked one that seemed rather large & went there thinking there would be a Red Cross but there wasn’t a thing – we did find a place to eat, though & then started back – – it took us about 3 hrs to get back – didn’t get home until 1 a.m. and we sure did have fun.  The road was so bumpy and their jeeps are practically falling apart – after traveling through Bizerte[,] Kas Pass etc – then on top of it all we sang every song under the sun – what noise.

894th-TD-Jeeps-Tunisia-enhanced-cropped
Detail from an image (Signal Corps Photo #167572) of 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion jeeps operating during the Tunisian campaign in 1943.  According to Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy, the photo was taken on February 25, 1943.  He wrote that there were “Wrecked American halftracks in foreground and town of Kasserine in background.” (National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

The identity of the second animal that Griffin and Jack cruelly decided to chase isn’t clear—maybe one of the species of gerbils or other rodents native to North Africa.

Then we decided we’d chase animals – the first was a rabbit that ran in front of us – we chased that until it ran off the road – the next was a marapat or some name like that –  a small-rat like animal that hops like a kangaroo & looks something like one – only small.  Then come a porcupine – so we got out & chased that – carried it to the light and tried to make it straighten out – all it did was roll into a tighter ball.  Crazy nuts but we had fun.

[…]

Things otherwise are the same here.  We can’t tell our soldiers from the French ones now – they have uniforms (summer) like ours – our jeeps, tanks etc and yesterday when we were in that town we stopped what we thought were American soldiers – Jack asked them were to eat & they couldn’t speak English.  So I told him to let me do the picking next time.  Then we saw three more and I said “Well I know they’re American” So I asked them – they were French to[o] and did he have the laugh on me.  We finally found where to eat from a little Arab boy that spoke English perfectly.  The kid showed us where to go, then said to me – where do you come from – I told him Boston – he said “oh Mass.”  Then Jack asked him where he was from and he said “Me, I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio”  We just got a kick out of some of the kids – they sure learn fast – much faster than we speak French.  We know just enough to get along and that’s all – in fact that’s all we want to know – English always has an always will be good enough for us and if anyone speaks French, Spanish, or Arabic to us when we get home, their life won’t be worth a cent.  They are helping us with the war, and are our Allies etc but we’ve just had enough of foreign languages.

July 29, 1943

I have two more pictures of me to send home when I have them printed – Jack took them.  One is a closeup of me sitting in a chair in back of our quarters – I had stuck my tongue out at Jack and he snapped it quick but not quick enough– you should see the freckles.  The other is one he took one night about 8.30 with the mountains as a back-ground.  It’s really good – I have my O.D. dress on – the prints won’t be ready until Wed or so.

August 1, 1943

This letter mentions Dorothea LeCain, Ella James, and Ruth Donovan.

Dear Muth – Went swimming this p.m.  Some boy came after Dot so Jimmie Ruth & I piled in the back seat of the jeep (which had not seat).  [sic]  Jack & two other boys appeared on the beach a couple of hours later so we had a nice afternoon..  To get there you have to ride all around mt. roads & then up a side road where you have to cross a stream on a home-made ferry – an awful lot of fun – just a big plank with railings and you have to keep pulling a cable to make it go.  We took pictures and also took some at the beach.  Well the jeep broke down on the way home & then we really had to go when it was fixed because it was late.  Was and am I ever sore – also J & R – from banging up and down – there’s not a decent road in NA

Undated Letter (Likely August 5, 1943)

This letter was dated only “Thursday” but references a social event mentioned in the following letter as well.  If Griffin’s letter is accurate, almost half of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion officers were socializing regularly with 32nd Station Hospital nurses.

We were having a formal Sat nite but it’s been postponed a week.  I was going with some col that Claire asked me to go with, so I suppose I have to go out anyhow.  Jack can’t ever come to town, just sneak in to pick me up and then we have to go to another town, the nearest of which is 60 miles – some fun.  They aren’t coming off restrictions neither for the rest of the time they are here so a lot of us have to do an awful lot of traveling.  There are about 15 of us that go around with 15 of them and you should see the conivering [sic, maybe supposed to be “conniving”] we have to do.

Undated Letter (Almost Certainly August 8, 1943)

The clues in this letter proved indispensable for determining Jack’s identity.  Given Griffin’s independent nature, I get the sense that, when Jack told her in the next excerpt that she “wasn’t going out with any Col”, he was being playful rather than controlling. The passage also indicates that Jack’s unit went overseas in 1942. That was an important clue for determining his unit; the 894th shipped out from New York on August 6, 1942.

Claire LaBonne and Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer are also mentioned.

Well Friday night Jack appeared on the scene – seeing as they are restricted to town I was surprised. Earlier in the week we had planned to have a dance Sat (last night) and I was going with a Col. that Claire wanted me to go with. The dance was cancelled Thurs but Jack didn’t know it. So Friday when he came he said he had all day Sat off because they were a year over-seas. It’s the second day he’s had off the first was the day I met him 3 months ago. So he said I wasn’t going out with any Col – they were all too old – too fresh etc. I went to Miss Brammer & asked her if I could have Sat off too for my day for the month, which she granted. She even asked me if I wanted to go to Oran overnight but I told her no. It’s a dirty place & I wanted to go swimming. So I got a date for the boy who was with Jack & off we went to a town about 50 miles from here only to find it closed tight. The ride was good anyhow– bumpy but we’re used to that. There’s a nice villa in this town where we can dance & eat – it’s too bad they can’t stay here. Well we got home about one – it takes a couple of hours to go that far. They hid the jeep when we got back & we went out on the back porch until 4 am – talked & sang (in low voices) Meanwhile I opened the cookies & cheese crackers. I sent the boys to the hospital to sleep and I was up bright & early @ 7.30, went out to have breakfast & there they were waiting for me. To continue later – the kids are waiting it’s 10pm.

The next paragraph continues the story of the outing with Jack and friends, starting with a visit to the Red Cross. Although Griffin’s letters often referred to members of Jack’s unit accompanying them on outings, this is the only confirmed instance in the extant letters in which she gave their names.  I was able to identify the officers in the passage below as Baker D. Newton and Warner “Bud” Hale.

Newton-Collection-Newton-Rome-June-1944-retouched
Captain Baker D. Newton in a portrait taken in Rome in June 1944 (Courtesy of the Newton family)

Baker D. Newton (1918–1961) was born in Boydell, Arkansas, the twelfth child of Frederick and Mary Newton.  During the next few years, the family moved to Louisiana and then Oklahoma, before finally settling in Ferriday, Louisiana.  Newton was an R.O.T.C. cadet at Louisiana State University before the war.  He also obtained his M.S. in Physical Education in 1941. 

According to his military records, 2nd Lieutenant Newton was commissioned as an 2nd lieutenant in the Infantry Branch on May 21, 1941.  He went on active duty with in the U.S. Army on August 25, 1941 and was assigned to the 94th Antitank Battalion (which became the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion shortly thereafter) .  By December 25, 1941, he was a platoon leader in Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion; his name appeared in a program for a Christmas dinner the company held that day.  He was promoted to 1st lieutenant around June 20, 1942 and served as company executive officer, probably in Company “C”.

Newton was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his performance during the Tunisian campaign.  The citation, dated June 21, 1943, documented several exploits, all of which occurred in the same day.  The citation stated that during an artillery bombardment, “he went from foxhole to foxhole distributing magazines and joking with his men”.  (In a letter to his mother, Newton said that he actually waited for a lull in the bombardment to make his rounds!)  Then “he established an observation post” under heavy fire, which resulted in the silencing of an “enemy artillery battery.”  When one of the unit’s M3 tank destroyers (a half-track with a 75 mm cannon mounted) was hit, he helped lead the effort to extinguish the fire: “Small arms ammunition was exploding while he assisted in putting out the fire by shovelling [sic] sand.”  He was promoted to captain on May 3, 1943 and took over as commanding officer of Company “C.”  

A February 6, 1944 article by Daniel De Luce of the Associated Press—printed in papers nationwide—described how Captain Newton and his men repulsed a German armor attack in support of British infantry during the Anzio campaign.  Unit records confirm that Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion knocked out four Tiger tanks during the German counterattack.  

Captain Newton transferred to the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion around April 2, 1944.  He continued to serve as a company commander in his new unit until he became his battalion S-3 (operations officer) on January 11, 1945.  He remarked in a letter to his family that the new position “increases my life expectancy more than somewhat.”  Captain Newton earned a Bronze Star Medal for his actions during a battle near Magnacavallo, Italy on April 23, 1945.  On May 18, 1945 he was promoted to major and became the 805th’s executive officer.  An August 18, 1945 news item in The Times-Picayune indicated that now Major Newton had earned a Bronze Star Medal in Italy.  After the 805th was deactivated around November 14, 1945, he went on terminal leave until leaving active duty effective March 16, 1946.  

On June 29, 1947, Newton married his wife, Sue (1925–1998), in Vidalia, Louisiana.  The couple had one daughter.  He became a teacher at Ferriday High School in 1948, teaching English, journalism, and speech.  He remained in the reserves until April 1956.  He died in Louisiana, aged 42.

Warner-Hale-London-1942
Warner S. Hale in a photograph taken in London, 1942 (Courtesy of the Hale family)

Warner Stephens Hale (1920–2002), nicknamed Bud, was born in Statham, Georgia to Dawson and Estelle Hale. Hale attended the University of Georgia before the war. It’s unclear when he joined the U.S. Army, but he was overseas in London by 1942. He eventually reached the rank of captain, serving in Company “B” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion. According to an October 17, 1944 news item in The Atlanta Constitution, he earned the Bronze Star Medal for his performance in Italy. (His daughter told me that they also found paperwork indicating that he had earned the Air Medal, which was sometimes earned for performing artillery spotter duties in reconnaissance aircraft.)  Hale’s two brothers also served; 1st Lieutenant Emmett Hale of the U.S. Army Air Forces was killed in a plane crash in 1944.

After the war, Hale returned to the University of Georgia and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor of science in chemistry. Hale married Irene Slaughter (1925–2007) in 1950. The couple raised four daughters. According to his obituary in the Athens Banner-Herald, he “was in the homebuilding and development business in the Athens area for many years and was a past president of the Athens Homebuilders Association. ” He died in Athens, Georgia, aged 82.

The beach outing also included Ruth Donovan and Virginia Donehue.

Pictures aren’t ready so I’m back. We ate & then started out – stopped at a town at 10 a m, had a sandwich & coffee at R.C. & then went back a way to the beach. It’s only about an hours ride but we stayed a [sic] R C quite a while. Hale went back to get Virginia who was off for the afternoon & Newt – Jack’s C.O. of his company was coming out [with] Ruth. We were going to stay on the beach until 4 & then go to a town & eat. Jack & I talked – then went swimming came out on the beach & I went to sleep. When I woke up he was asleep too. It was terrifically hot and 330 pm. We couldn’t understand where the kids were – & us without a jeep and miles from no where. So we moved up in the shade of a little scrub pine with bugs galore crawling & [illegible] over us – I went to sleep again & Jack had to wake me because the sun or rather the shade had moved. Then we wondered some more where the kids were & I was hungry. It was 630 & I couldn’t understand where the day had gone. At seven the other appeared– 4 in one jeep. It seems that the jeep we had been in had broken down & Virginia & Bud had to hitch back to town to get someone to fix it. As they were going back they passed Newt & Ruth. Meanwhile 20 miles further their jeep broke down & no one passed. They had to sit & wait until V & Bud came back which was 630, explaining why they didn’t arrive at the beach earlier. They were all exhausted but the water refreshed them.

Newton-Collection-Jarvie-and-Newton-Tlemcen-retouched-slightly-cropped
1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie (left) and Captain Baker D. Newton (right) sitting in a jeep with a local civilian in a picture taken in Tlemcen, Algeria in the summer of 1943 (Courtesy of the Newton family)

In the following passage, Jack makes a reference to “The breaking waves dashed high”, a line from—and alternate title to—“The Pilgrim Fathers” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans. 

By then the waves were just dashing in and where the rocks jut out at both ends of the beach it was really beautiful. Jack said it reminded him of “The breaking waves dashed high etc.” The sun was just a red ball of fire when we left & we started for home– I was truly hungry. We stopped at a town to eat and everything closed once more. Guess we’re the ones who keep our town open. When we got back it was midnight. Ruth had a can of cheese in her room that she had snitched at one time & we pinched a can of tuna fish from Dot – – took some of Claire’s Nes-Cafe – then they watched while I sneaked in the kitchen & stole a loaf of bread & found some meat left over from supper. Did we ever eat – Jack & I with no dinner & supper & the other kids with me no supper. Anyhow I had one glorious day – my best long day since N.A.

One can only imagine Mrs. Griffin’s reaction at reading the conclusion to the letter. Alice had learned that her mother had been gossiping (and evidentially exaggerating the seriousness) of her relationship with Jack, and told her in no uncertain terms to knock it off.

Muth, if I don’t write as much now it’s because there isn’t too much to tell – in fact there’s practically nothing. The only man I go out with is Jack and he gets in once & sometimes twice a week & if I keep writing about him, you’ll expect me to be bringing him home with me and as I wrote before I shan’t see him after he leaves– this is Africa m’lady. I’ll tell you all about him when I get home though but until then – you’ll have to wait & don’t run around telling the neighbors etc that I’ve fallen in love. You see Ruth got a letter from her mother asking if I was really in love – you’re supposed to keep those things to yourself. Ruth just looked at me with that certain look & said “She should see you.” That’s all for now – be good you two monkeys. Loads of Love

Alice

August 14, 1943

Haven’t seen Jack for a week – he’s been in his tent with a terrific burn that he got last Sat on the beach.  I’ll only see him a couple of times more now because I go away for a week & then it’ll be time for me to go.

Undated Letter (Probably August 26, 1943)

Although it was dated only “Thursday”, Captain Lowell Vinsant‘s journal recorded that Al Jolson’s visit to the 32nd Station Hospital occurred on August 25, 1943.  It’s not clear if Jack was able to stay around for the Al Jolson concert after one of the outings mentioned in the letter.

Company “C”/894th Tank Destroyer Battalion morning reports confirm that Lieutenant Jarvie was on leave from 0900 hrs on August 21, 1943 until 0030 hrs on August 26.

Did I tell you I went to Oran over-night Saturday– first one I’ve had.  Jack drove four of us down and we had a swell time.

We met four fellows from Jack’s outfit after we had dropped the kids at the R.C. club where we sleep so the five men & I went to the officers club & what do you supposed we got – – steak sandwiches and they sure were delicious.  In Oran you can get good things to eat but we are still having louzy mess.  The kids and drs squawk all the time but my friend here goes ahead and eats everything – – with the exception of the beans (supposedly Boston ones.)  One of the doctors said yesterday “Griffie – do you mean to tell me you’re really going to eat that crap”  I said certainly & dug right in.  Ruth says my appetite will leave me when I die at the age of 100 yrs.

I do hope you are O.K. Muth – – keep that way & for heavens sakes – don’t worry about us – we try so hard to let you people know we really are happy and still you worry – – what can we do to prove it to you!  Why we have ten & twelve men swarming us each night & back there the girls are crying for them.  We have jeeps to hop into & what else can we ask for.  We’re all taking a jeep home with us.  They are the bumpiest darn things and I love them.

[…]

In another example of changing timetables, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion didn’t actually board ships for Italy until October 1943.  Ella James and Wanda Dabrowski are mentioned.

Jack & his crowd go in 3 weeks at the latest.  We all will miss him because he takes us all anywhere we want to go – even if he only does get down once in a while.  Now yesterday was the end of his leave – I had a p.m.  We had planned on going over to another town and get some more hassocks but for some unknown reason I was vomiting all yesterday morning so I didn’t feel up to going there.  It’s a very hot place & no place to swim or eat so I suggested the beach.  The first thing he said was “Go round up the ones in your crowd who have pms – we’ll take some blankets and you can have a swim & sleep on the beach.”  Jimmie & Wanda had pms so toot sweet they were ready & off we went.  By the time I had the swim & sleep I felt wonderful & back we came here – only to have roast beef for supper. You see Al Jolson was visiting – and eating mess with us – then he gave a show for the boys which was swell.  It’s the first movie star we’ve had here because we are too far from Oran – it’s not too much in mileage but the roads are very winding & bad.  We don’t even like to go there too much.  I’ve been twice in six months.

September 14, 1943

P.S. I found the negatives of those pictures Jack took and will forward.

September 16, 1943

The photo displayed below is consistent with the one described in this letter, possibly one taken by Jack.

Griffin-Mts
2nd Lieutenant Griffin in the mountains near Tlemcen (Courtesy of the Griffin family)

Muth you can’t say now that I’m not having pictures taken.  Wait until you see the close up– of me in my beige dress that I’m sending tomorrow – just my face to my waist – freckles all over with a big grin on my puss because I had just finished sticking my tongue out at Jack & that was what he snapped but I pulled it in just a second before.  The one in my OD is good with mts in the back-ground.

September 25, 1943

The party mentioned in the following excerpt was for the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, as indicated by a September 29, 1943 letter that mentioned that “Jack’s outfit is giving us a dinner tomorrow night”.  A V-mail, also written September 29, suggested that Jack had better luck recruiting nurses for the party than Griffin did!

We are all (nurses) invited to a dinner dance at the Villa Rivaud next Thursday.  A T.D. outfit is giving it to us and we are going to have gazelle.  The manager says for the boys to catch them Wed & bring them back Wed afternoon so he can soak them in wine for 24hrs before they are ready to cook.  I hope we’ll all have a good time – – you see I had to go around & get the girls & it’s like pulling teeth – the gazelle got them though.

Villa-Rivaud
Old postcard of Villa Rivaud’s entrance (author’s collection)

September 29, 1943 (Letter)

The following passage describes the plan for the dinner dance at Villa Rivaud, held by the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, that was mentioned in Griffin’s September 25, 1943 letter.  Jack’s magnanimity is on full display is on full display in the following passage.  Helen is probably Helen Harrington, a nurse at Cambridge City Hospital who worked with Griffin before the war.

Jack’s outfit is giving us a dinner tomorrow night and as Jack knows all the nurses and they all like him he was elected to arrange the party.  He can come to town 2 nights a week and for the last 2 visits we’ve been busy arranging things.  Then last night when we had planned to skip up the Villa & dance, I took salts by mistakes & lived in the John practically all the time up there.  We have invited one of our Captains to be our guest tomorrow night.  I found out Sat that way back last April he had done me a big favor – – the only reason he told me was he was a bit high.  So Jack thinks he should come along and he is tickled – you see we are having gazelle.  Then last night I was telling Jack about Helen H’s collection of Salt & Pepper shakers & how she would like some from N.A.  When we got back to the hotel he pulled out a glass S & P set [little drawing of like t-shaped object] (not shakers) and said – there’s # 1 on Helen’s N.A. collection & I’ll have # 2 next week.

[…]

The story Lieutenant Colonel Goss told in the following excerpt may explain why his daughter chose not to postpone her wedding (in August 1945) by a month so that her father could attend it!

Jack went to see our CO last night to get permission for us to stay out after MN tomorrow because a dinner for 70 is going to take a long time.  These Arabs are so slow and we want to dance later.  But the answer was no.  Then he went on to explain all about his daughter asking to go to the movies on a weekday night & how he wouldn’t allow it etc etc.  All this time I was waiting to catch J downstairs in case he might get thrown out.  He walked out though.

September 29, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail mentions the party for Jack’s unit described in the previous letter.  35 nurses would have amounted to between 64% and 70% of the 32nd Station Hospital’s nurse staffing (which decreased from 55 to 50 nurses during the course of the year), though it seems they still had extra staffing from the 46th General Hospital.  Based on the T/O, it would probably have been a date for every officer in the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion!

Big time tomorrow night – 70 people.  J & I arranged the affair so I hope it’s a success.  We got 35 nurses to go and that’s the largest amt we’ve been able to get for anything – you might know J. did the asking.

September 29, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail was sent to the Pattens, the Griffins’ next door neighbors at 18 Londale Street in Dorchester.  The “boy” mentioned is presumably (but not definitely) Jack.

Hi There –        Hope you had a swell vacation.  Henry must be awful brown after beach & Camp.  Jae will go to Camp next year won’t he.  Tell them I am going gazelle hunting in a couple of weeks – I’ll let you know the results – – we go way out on the desert.  They boy who is taking me says I won’t have nerve enough to shoot them but I have to take it as a sport and see how many I can get.

October 2, 1943

The next passage would suggest that the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was about to move in preparation for shipping out to Italy later that month.  Indeed, according to Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy: The History of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II: “On October 8, a movement was made from Sebdou to Staging Area #1 near Fleurus, Algeria.”

Jack goes next week but he will go to another city for a while.  He sure has been good to me – but as I said before I shan’t see him when I get home.  He hasn’t only been good to me but to all our crowd but of course a little extra attention showed to me.

October 5, 1943

This letter mentions Ella James, Wanda Dabrowski, and Kathleen Donahue.

We played bonanza tonight and about 10 Jack dropped in on his way home from one of the cities – he’s going to try to make it tomorrow night – if so Jim & Wanda – Kay & the bunch will all go up the Villa with him.

October 12, 1943

This letter describes the last time that Griffin saw Jack prior to his unit shipping out for Italy.  According to the exchange rate described in other letters, 20 francs would have been worth about 40¢.

Hagelshaw-Oran
This view of the port of Oran, Algeria in 1943 from the collection of Dr. Gayland Hagelshaw was almost certainly taken from the same vantage point that Griffin mentioned in her letter (Courtesy of the Hagelshaw family)

The censor cut out two mentions of Oran but missed a third.  Griffin was probably describing a visit to the Fort and Chapel of Santa Cruz.

Met J. Tuesday @ 3 p.m.  He had his driver so we went way up the top of a mt. where that French Fort is and also the Chapel I had the pictures of.  It was a beautiful, clear day & we were watching the port & also the city of [censored] for about [1?]¾ of an hour.  I didn’t realize Oran was so large & crowded – but also compact so it looks small.  Then we drove back to the city – sent the driver back to camp & Jack and I went to see Holliday [sic] Inn. – – it was perfect – but White Xmas got me – you know that was #1 on the hit parade when we left.  From there we went back to the officers club where you can get sandwiches coffee wine & beer.  We skipped the wine & beer but doubled the sandwiches, bought extra ones and made dagwoods – had two each & two cups of coffee.  Then we thought we’d take in a show again – officers club is just crowded and I don’t care for it.  So off we trotted, cut down a side street & passed a tent – with a French circus going on inside.  We skipped under the flap and they saw us and welcomed us – 20 francs each.  It was much better than the one I saw a few months back – everything in French – but we got the drift.  We laughed so hard that the clown started playing up to us.  Then they had a horse with two men inside.  The darn thing came out of the ring & sat on my lap.  There were two cute little French kids that had been sitting next to Jack about 3 & 5 yrs and you couldn’t see them for dust.  The audience howled – half soldiers & half French.  The horse left & J called the kids back.  So after the circus J walked me back to the R.C. and then went back to camp.  I don’t know if I’ll see him again or not – I’m so glad I could make connections to see him.  There will be no goodbyes and I will not know when the last time will be – I have a feeling it was last night.  He’ll write when he lands safely and that will be the last of our correspondence or meetings.  I certainly had one swell time and I sure hope he makes it O.K.

Griffin-circus-ticket
Ticket from the circus, likely the last time Griffin saw Jack (Courtesy of the Feeney family)

October 14, 1943

Jack’s departure from Algeria is mentioned near the end of this letter.  This is consistent with Patrick J. Chase’s book, which stated that various companies in the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion shipped out for Italy starting October 14, 1943.

Muth I hope you’re right about the war being over by spring but gee you know the rainy season starts next month – in fact it rains three times a week now and that’s bad.  J has gone so I heard today.

October 24, 1943 (Letter)

The excerpt is a retelling of the tale of the inadvertent double date that Griffin first recounted in her June 22, 1943 letter.  There are some subtle differences in the story.  In the original telling, Griffin described both only as men from a Tank Destroyer unit, whereas this letter explicitly names one of them as Jack.  Also, in the first version, Ruth Donovan only “just laughed & wouldn’t help” Griffin, whereas in this telling Donovan eventually did help Griffin patch things up.

I don’t know what they are having all that training in the states for the nurses for – it’s all a lot of nonsense as far as we can make out & we’ve talked to nurses who have been bombed etc.  What they should teach them is how to take a bath in the middle of winter in a tin can or helmet & how to take care so that you don’t get your dates mixed – that was our greatest difficulty.  Skip out the side door with one while a second one was sitting waiting for you & a third on the way.  I’ll never forget the time I was caught – the one & only time – & for months I had been laughing at the kids & telling them if they were wise they wouldn’t get their dates mixed.  Well I was sitting in the lobby one afternoon, talking to an officer that I had promised to go to a dance with that night – I had been out with him about 4 times previous to that.  Well Jack walked in & came over & sat down on the other side of me – I had forgotten a date I made with him.  So I introduced them & the three of us sat – one glaring at the other.  Finally I excused myself & went in & asked Ruth what the devil I was going to do because I wanted to go out with Jack.  All she did was laugh but she came out to have a glass of wine with us & I got Jack aside & told him I had made a date with the other one.  So I had no peace after that – Jack would just look at me & laugh.  We got it settled though, Ruth took Jack for ten minutes while I told the other guy that I had made the date with J. first.  So we settled it by my going with the first one the next afternoon & evening.  So you see.

October 28, 1943

I’m enclosing a snapshot that Jack took in [censored] about a month ago.  His camera is swell and could take any kind of candid shots.  It was his that took the one of the camels, chapel, the two of me that you liked etc.  This one was taken standing on the sidewalk looking up at the sign.  They have it right on the square at the main drag – pretty good don’t you think – –only they left Boston out.

October 31, 1943 (Letter)

By the way, I have started packing my uniform to go home.  I am also sending a dish for you Muth, one for the Bianchis – one for Gertrude, Auntie, Mgt, and a couple of Arab hats.  Also a purse that Jack gave me that is to be put away as is.  Seeing as I won’t see him any more it will be a nice souvenir.

November 16, 1943

The following V-mail, presented in its entirety, is the last time that Jack is mentioned in the letters of the Alice Griffin Collection.  The letter seems to have been intended for Griffin’s sister alone.  It is the only time recorded in the extant letters that she waivered in her decision to cut off communication with him after his unit left.  That the letter provided Jack’s date of birth (November 16, 1914) proved vital in establishing his identification beyond any doubt.  The letter would seem to imply that he sent her a medal he’d earned, though it’s unknown what that would have been, since his personnel records were lost in the 1973 fire.  The letter also mentions Ella “Jimmie” James.

Dear Margie – Just arrived on duty and thought I would drop you a line.  Heard from J. today and he arrived in Italy safely and is now in combat.  He sent me the most beautiful Mother of Pearl and Silver cross on a very fine silver chain from that country.  There was also a medal hitched to it.  Margie, just what am I supposed to do – I ask you – have to decide myself anyhow.  Gave him a send-off three weeks ago and he promised me he’d only write one letter saying he’d arrived safely but instead he continues – what a man – he really has me running in circles.  Today is his birthday (29) and the kids all wrote him a letter.  You see Jimmie received a pint of Hiram Walker in one of her packages and we all drank to Jack’s birthday.  Seeing as we hadn’t had any for so long, it made us a little foolish.  I’m sending them just the same, Margie.  Saw some more hats for Pete but we’ll get them after the first of the month – it’s a draw – whether or not we’ll be in tents for Christmas but doubt very much it will be Italy although I’ve sent to Verna for addresses.  Who knows – France or England.  Loads of love to Pete & John – Alice.


The Alice Griffin Collection

Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part I (March & April 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part II (May & June 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part III (July & August 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part IV (September & October 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)
1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie: Jack in the Alice Griffin Letters

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Last updated September 22, 2020

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