by Sue Ann Rybak
Chestnut Hill native Minturn Wright, 90, who now lives at the Hill in Whitemarsh, was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a radio operator in the 106th infantry division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I tried to enlist in the Navy, Marines and Air Force, but I was turned down by all three because of my eyes,” he said. “I was nearsighted. It has always amused me that my eyes were not good enough to get by in the Navy, Marines or the Air Force, but they were good enough to be in the infantry in the Army.”
After basic and specialty training, Wright, who had attended a boarding school in Connecticut, was sent to the 106th division and temporarily assigned to a special company called the canon company. “I thought the canon company was terrific because if you were in a canon company, you rode everywhere,” he said.
Wright said despite his efforts to be assigned to the canon company, he was ultimately assigned to the signal company as a radioman. He said it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because almost everyone assigned to the canon company was killed or taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge. “The radios weren’t these walkie talkies that you hold in your hand,” he said. “They were large radios mounted in the back of pickup trucks. They weren’t field radios.”
Wright was shipped out in early November, 1944, and arrived in Liverpool, England, on Nov. 17. Then trains transported the unit to the middle of England, where he and his fellow troops bivouacked in open fields. “One day, the first sergeant came down,” he said. “He was a man nobody liked, a very stiff and unfriendly person. At the time, our commanding general was staying as a guest of Lord Boverton in a manor house on a typical English country estate. The sergeant said, ‘The general is throwing a party for their hosts, Lord and Lady Boverton, and some of their friends.’”
The sergeant said the division band was going to play some music for the guests after dinner, and a hypnotist was going to display his art for the ensemble. The sergeant needed volunteers to be hypnotized. Wright and a couple of his buddies volunteered.
“The hypnotist (who was a sergeant) attempted to hypnotize the men and Lady Doverton,” Wright said. “It wasn’t working. I thought this poor sergeant is gonna bomb, so I decided to pretend I was in a trance. He (the hypnotist) said, ‘You’re in a blizzard.’ So, I shivered. Then he said, ‘You see a pretty girl,’ and I made googly eyes.
“Then the sergeant said, ‘Now, I am going to give him a command, and when he comes out of the hypnotism, he will instantly obey my command.’ And I thought, ‘God what am I in for?’ So, he claps his hands and says, ‘You are a rooster,’ and without even thinking I opened my eyes wide and jumped into the middle of the floor, bounced on my hunches and waved my arms, shouting ‘Cock-a-Doodle Do.’ I actually brought down the entire house. The audience was in stitches. How much anyone believed me? I never inquired.”
When the entertainment ended, Wright said a major, who had been standing in the back of the room, started to come forward to grab them by the collars and take them out of there.
“But Lady Doverton, who was still sitting next to me, grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘I want you to meet some of my friends.’ So, we got up, and she just pushed the major out of her way. He was livid. She introduced me to a lot of pretty girls … General Jones, the head of our command, came over and said ‘Corporal, that was a wonderful performance.’ Of course, I had no idea whether he knew, but he was a jolly looking fellow.”
A few days later the whole division was shipped off to France. Wright arrived at the front on Dec. 11, right along the German and Belgian border. “The German side was called the Siegfried Line. We took over the front, which was unusually long. It was something like a 25-mile front. The front line had been thinned purposely in anticipation for the Great Allied Attack into Germany.”
Wright’s signal company consisted of him and three other men who were assigned to drive to the headquarters of one of the three regiments, the 424 Infantry regiment. “We drove to the regiment which was inside Germany across the German border and parked our truck by a stone barn very close to regiment headquarters. The commanding officer of the regiment was General Reed. It had been quiet for months. Then on the 16th, the Battle of the Bulge began before dawn five days later.
“The Germans cut through the American line, and within two days they had surrounded the other two regiments that were north of us, the 422nd and the 423rd. Those two regiments were completely destroyed. Most of them were taken prisoner, but A LOT of them were killed. At one point our regiment was surrounded. We were cut off. The usual communications between units was almost destroyed because the roads were cut. No messages could get through.
“The telephone lines we had laboriously laid were all cut and destroyed, and our radio was the only means of communication to any other unit including the other regiments and headquarters. On the second night, the 17th, the order came through to abandon the village and retreat before we were completely destroyed.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK