News: World War II veteran visits former unit
Story by Staff Sgt. Kai Jensen
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Being 90 years old, his eyes are still clear, his mind and memories sharp, and his hand shake firm. Having just walked 300 yards up hill, and then up a flight of stairs, he shows no signs of being winded and still smiles politely when meeting someone for the first time.
Retired Maj. Byron D. Lemmon was formerly attached to the 76th Infantry Division during World War II, now known as the 76th Operational Response Command, and as a veteran has seen and done more in his life than most people can imagine.
“The rules back then were that everyone had to go through the draft,” said Lemmon, now a volunteer with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve at Fort Douglas, Utah. “When you were drafted, the Navy; Army and Marines came and would each take so many [draftees]. In the morning they lined us up alphabetically and the Navy took six, the Marines took two and the rest of us went into the Army. So there I was.”
Every year there are fewer WWII veterans to share their experiences with the next generation but telling those stories allows lessons to still be learned and inspiration to still be had.
“Anytime we can locate and regain contact with a WWII 76th Infantry Division Soldier it is a good news story for us,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel L. York, commanding general of the 76th ORC at Fort Douglas, Utah. “It ties us to the ‘greatest generation’ and forms a bond between the past and the present. We learn and are inspired from our WWII Soldiers and we share their lineage through the 76th that is special and should give us cause to do our best to maintain the honor of this great organization.”
Lemmon, a native of Pocatello, Idaho, was 19-years-old when he was drafted, and in 1943 was sent to Camp Rucker, Ala. (now Fort Rucker) for Basic Training. He then went to Camp Stewart, Ga. (now Fort Stewart) where he received anti-aircraft training before being sent overseas to the city of Oran, in North Africa, and the start of his involvement in WWII.
During his service Lemmon participated in multiple battles and was
wounded twice. The first time he was hit in the chest by shrapnel during the Colmar Pocket campaign, known by many as where Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor, and then by a snipers bullet in southern Germany.
“There was fierce fighting, it was the worst winter they had had in 25 years in Germany and we were out in it most of the time as infantry troops,” said Lemmon. “Then we moved into a little town called Middleware and set up mortars but the German’s wanted this town back so they hit around our ammunition with artillery and the white phosphorous began leaking out, burning into the ammunition.”
“I grabbed a shovel and threw it in the creak but some more rounds came in and a piece of shrapnel hit me in the chest,” he continued. “I had a cut in my [uniform] but with everything I was wearing it saved my life.”
The second time Lemmon was wounded was on April 1, 1945 (Easter Sunday) in southern Germany.
When a German jet began to strafe his convoy, he went to take cover in the doorway of a nearby building.
“A sniper from somewhere nearby took a shot at my head but hit me in the shoulder instead,” said Lemmon. “So I was evacuated by jeep to the 4th Division aid station and then loaded into an ambulance to try and find a hospital.”
After recovering in the hospital Lemmon was evacuated to Nancy, France and eventually shipped back home, ending his time in Europe.
After the war Lemmon came back into the military by commissioning in the Army Reserve in 1951 and eventually retired at the rank of major in 1983.
“The Army meant an awful lot to me,” said Lemmon. “The most enjoyable part of my life was being with the Army.”