Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, March 13, 2015

BILL PADGETT

BILL PADGETT
Patriot

The members of Post 17 of the American Legion honored Bill Padgett and Jake Webb last Saturday by naming their post, founded in 1919, in honor of these two friends and fellow members of the 4th Division, which landed ashore at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.  I have written about Jake Webb in the past.  Now thanks to Mac Fowler and his interviews of World War II veterans, here is the story of Bill Padgett in his own words of his experiences around D-Day, the story of Bill Padgett, patriot:

I was on guard duty up at Fort Benning, Georgia on December 7, 1941. I enlisted into the Army, January 1940 down at Ft. Screven, on Tybee Island, Georgia. Immediately after Pearl Harbor was attacked, we moved to Ft. Gordon, GA.  I was in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Gordon.  This training was done mostly at night. was extremely helpful later on in combat especially in directing the artillery. I lacked one year on my three-year tour before I would have discharged when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and all discharges were frozen.

After about a year at Fort Gordon, we went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where “We had chemical warfare training at Ft. Dix learning about all types of chemicals that we might possibly encounter during the war.”

We knew when we got to England that this was a staging area. We didn't know where or when but we knew there was something big in the making. We continued to train doing more obstacle courses and getting use to the climate. It was cold when we arrived there.

I was in a machine gun outfit, the 1st Battalion, 8th Inf. Reg., and 4th Division, Company D. We would go out in the landing craft about fifteen miles, the ones that would be used in the D-Day Invasion.  It seemed like we were already in combat.

General Dwight Eisenhower came out to each unit, no matter how large or small. I was in charge of quarters the day he came to speak to our unit. The OD told me to go ahead to the meeting. General Eisenhower told us at the meeting we were the best-dressed, best fed and best equipped and highest paid soldiers in the world, barring none. He built up our moral so high that no one could stop us when we hit the beaches. He had us to take our headdress off, I never understood why he wanted us to do this, but I found out later he wanted to see if anyone was a bald as he was.

We were on our ships waiting to invade three or four days due mainly to weather conditions. A storm moved in on June 2 and 3rd and the meteorologist thought there would be an opening on the 5th and 6th. We were riding those white caps, it was very choppy.

We were on a troop ship. We had to climb down a net ladder (like six stories long) to the landing barges. The rough waters caused the ship to rock and the net ladder would swing away from the ship and then come back and slam you against the ship. With our heavy backpack and other equipment, it was difficult to hold on to the ladder. My 1st Sgt. was getting a little age on him and really shouldn't have been on the operation. He was going down the ladder, his helmet came off and the chinstrap was choking him causing him to fall into the boat. It hurt his back so they had to hoist him back on the ship. We didn't see him for about two months up on the front.

On June 6th at 6:o'clock in the morning, we hit Utah Beach. Our Assistant Division Commander, General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the former President's son got permission to go ashore with the first wave of men with his walking cane and a revolver. He looked like he was surveying a parcel of land to buy. He wouldn't take cover, but a German Artillery shell knocked him down and covered him up with sand. He would crawl out and brush himself off and lost his walking cane one time. Someone had to find it for him. He would walk back and forth from the sea walls to the beaches like he was directing traffic. He only lived about ninety days after the invasion due to exposure related to his arthritis.

Just beyond that sea wall, there was barbed wire obstruction put there by the Germans that looked like it was about fifty feet wide. I had this bangalo torpedo which was about six feet pipe about three inches in diameter. This torpedo was loaded with TNT and Nitro-starch.

I was the point man to these other six guys, which had six feet of pipe each. These pipes were designed to lock together end to end. We were receiving fire from the Germans and we were afraid to stick our heads up. When you lit those waterproof fuses, you only had a few seconds to find a shell hole to get in for protection, you had to be on your all fours and open your mouth it would be so loud. I had a headache for three weeks, especially when I would eat, you would taste that powder.

General Roosevelt had flesh wounds all up and down his arms. It was unusual to see the high brass on the point like he was. They are usually in the back with the maps and telephones where it is safer. The flame-throwers went ahead of us and did a great job in clearing things out. The guys with satchel chargers would run up there and throw them in the bunkers to clean out the bunkers. The 82nd Airborne was suppose to drop ten miles ahead of us. But they got scattered. Some were ten, some fifteen miles. We cleared out everything out on the beach there. Two P51's came in from the sun, I thought they were German planes because they had planes that looked a lot like them. Everyone hit the dirt, we thought we were being bombed. But what they dropped was five hundred pounds tanks of flame-thrower fuel that went skidding across the Bermuda grass there. For a big invasion like this, everything went about as good as you could ask for.

We came to a lake and was somewhat trapped. If the Germans had been there, they could have wiped us out. We carried some small pump-up boats but luckily we didn't have to use them because the planes had pushed the Germans back further and we were able to go across the causeway. We advanced through those hedgerows about seven and half miles that first day. We found out after the war that two of our four battlewagons should have been at Omaha Beach. That's why we were so fortunate. It was the difference of losing three hundred men against five thousand.

We met up with the paratroopers about six that afternoon, some of those 82nd Airborne. Kelso Horne (of Dublin) was part of the 82nd and it was some of those boys that we met up with.

Our first objective was to go to Cherbourg Peninsula, south of Normandy Beach. We thought we would take it faster than we did. They were well fortified down there. As we took Cherbourg, we had some help from another outfit. I've forgotten who it was. We came back to Cartan and St. Lo, France where we were stalled. The Germans had a semi-circle of heavy tanks and we were dug-in elbow to elbow with plenty of everything. General Patton gave a speech that we were going to go through the Germans like "crap through a goose". He talked kinda rough! I thought he was going to spear head with tanks, but he spearheaded with 1500 bombers.  We had to jerk up our machine guns and run back three hundred yards. All we could see was roots and rocks. However, the visibility that morning was such that you thought you could see for ten miles. But in three hours time all that chemical and dust made it seem cloudy for two weeks. We knocked out a hole there about ten miles wide and forty miles deep and before we jumped off some of our own men got killed. The bombs were so close that even some of the tankers were killed. St. Lo was a hot spot; they call it the "break-out" at that time of the war. We went straight toward Paris and the Germans threw a couple of armored divisions in front there. You couldn't write home and tell anyone where you were, so General Patton called back and said he was "somewhere in France".

Padgett and his unit kept moving inland, fighting through crumbling villages and impenetrable hedgerows  until he and his fellow soldiers were cut off by German forces and captured.  Padgett was wounded in the hand and held prisoner until the first days of May 1945 before the final German surrender on May 7, 1945.

Bill Padgett, who grew up on a farm in Vidalia, Georgia and lived for many years in Laurens County, received a Purple Heart, an Oak Cluster and other combat medals.  He and his wife, Joyce Kight, had three sons, Russell Lamar, Jimmy B., and Joseph Craig.

For more information on Bill Padgett & Jake Webb and other hometown heroes, go to www.dublinlaurenshometownheroes.blogspot.com.

2 comments:

Tony Stracener said...

Awesome hero. Thanks for sharing !!!

Tony Stracener said...

Awesome hero. Thanks for sharing !!!