THE RARE BREED
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Vernon Wright With 'Cactus' Men
Thru Rhineland, Central Europe
Vernon Wright in photo taken in 1939
Wesley (Vernon) Wright had already been in and out of the Army by the time of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It didn't take long after Japan's sneak attack before he was back in uniform, to serve his country.
A native of the Carancahua Community and son of B. B. and Minnie Wright, Vernon had returned home and had taken up residence in Palacios after serving a hitch of three years and six days. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he re-entered active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
He was assigned to the 383rd Field Artillery Battalion of the 103rd Infantry Division, an outfit known as the "Cactus." Wright's 383rd would lend its firepower in support of the 410th Infantry Battalion.
The 103rd Division had had a skeleton existence for 21 years as an organized reserve division. By mid-1942 it was being officially activated to share in the total crushing of Nazi Germany. After months of training, maneuvers, etc., in the Louisiana swampland at Camp Claiborne, the 103rd moved to Camp Howze in North Texas, before a long train ride to Camp Shanks, N.Y., and preparations for an ocean voyage.
A history of the 103rd in World War II, "Report After Action," by Ralph Mueller and Jerry Turk, says the troops sailed from New York in a convoy on Oct. 6, 1944--four months after D-Day. They entered the port of Marseilles, in south France on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, on Oct. 20, the first Allied troops into the port for which the Germans had put up a stout defense before withdrawing.
From Marseilles, the 103rd moved out and was committed into its first action, near St. Die, on Nov. 11, 1944--less than seven weeks after leaving Camp Howze, Texas. Instead of swampland or North Texas country, it was the Vosges Mountains, freezing winter weather, flooded rivers and the enemy.
"Report After Action," records the deeds and generosity of the French mountain people, who were poor and existing in pathetic living conditions. Frequently, during a sharp fight, French men, women, or boys would sneak up to a GI and hand him a cup of steaming, ersatz coffee or a bottle of wine.
From St. Die began a long campaign of about six months for the 103rd, that took it some 500 fighting miles upward along the eastern side of France, out of the mountains into the Rhine Valley, turning back southeasterly thru Germany and Austria before concluding in northern Italy on May 4, 1945, near Brenner, when contact was made with the 5th Army.
In between had been such places and/or events as Eafrig; the walled city of Selestat, Muhlhausen, Lorraine-Alsace; Klingenmuenster, smashing thru the Maginot and Siegfried Lines with their concrete, six-level deep and tunneled pillboxes; some with 12-foot thick roofs; then the first stab into Germany near Bobenthal on Dec. 15, 1944. Nearly all of the fighting from the time the Cactus men landed at Marseilles in November until the following March was in freezing, snowy, windy weather conditions.
Men of the 103rd spent Christmas 1944 in foxholes. Also New Year's Eve.
After the crossing of the Rhine River in early 1945, the 103rd turned back southeasterly to Heidelberg. A map shows that from April 20 to May 1, the 410th Infantry Battalion, with Wright's 383rd Field Artillery Battalion, went from Mainhardt, thru such German and Austrian cities as Kirchheim, Munsingen, Geislingen, (crossed the Danube near Ulm) Weibenhorn, Kaufbeuren, Mittenwald, Leutasch and Zirl before reaching Innsbruck on May 3. A day later, contact was made with the XXI Corps, east of Innsbruck and with the 5th Army at Brenner Pass in northern Italy.
Winston Churchill announced V-E Day on May 8.
The end of the war in Europe was met with a variety of reactions among the troops. In the book, "Citizen Soldiers," by Stephen E. Ambrose, which followed the U.S. Army from June 7, 1944 to Germany's surrender the following May, the author quotes Cpl. James Pemberton of the 103rd Division, who had been in combat for 147 days:
"The night of May 8, 1945, I was looking down from our cabin on the mountain at the Inn River Valley in Austria. It was black. And then the lights of Innsbruck went on. If you have not lived in darkness for months, shielding even a match light deep in a foxhole, you can't imagine the feeling."
For service to his country, Wright was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern (EAME) Campaign Medal, with two Bronze Stars, and the Good Conduct medal.
Wright received his discharge, with the rank of Staff Sergeant, at Fort Knox, Ky., in October of 1945 and before long, was homeŃ this time to stay.
He and his wife, Alice, married in 1953, live on Palacios Route 1. They have one daughter, Kay Brown, of Port Alto; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Wright passed away Dec. 17, 2009 at the age of 89.
Vernon and Alice Wright married in 1953.
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