Lander native owes his life to a pair of gloves
“You just stared day in and day out. You didn’t know if you was going to be there forever or what… when this thing would end.”
On the line for weeks at a time during the Allied push through France into Germany in three separate battles as part of the U.S. Army 29th Division, Lyle McIntyre wondered at times whether the war in Europe, which he had come to know so intimately, would come to a conclusion.
But as war was brewing in the late 1930s into the early 1940s, McIntyre said, growing up in Lander one of eight children living on a dairy farm on Miller Hill Road, “being a kid… naturally you don’t realize too much about it. A lot of it you don’t realize today.”
McIntyre is a 1941 graduate of Lander School. “Lander was all the way though,” he recalled. “(I) served my 12 years there and got out. It was a two-story building” with elementary on the first level and high school on the second floor.
But once war broke out in both the Pacific, African and European theatres, he had an inkling Uncle Sam would call for him.
“I had a pretty good idea it was coming along,” he said. “You were wanted or something of that nature.
“Some of them I knew in the area became farmers in a hurry to get out of it. Either that or getting married.”
For McIntyre, the call came in April of 1943 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
He was not afforded the opportunity to select his branch of service. “You almost had to enlist to pick something,” he said.
McIntyre’s first stop in the service was at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, just outside Hattiesburg.
The Army had “just started up a new division, activated the 69th division. When I was training down there for a year, (I) went to advanced infantry training.”
That extra training was a benefit to McIntyre in the future.
“A good share of them (infantry) didn’t have” advanced training. “It really did help. We knew what live fire was (like).
In addition to being exposed to live fire, McIntyre said the training required “a lot of rifle firing, too. (We) was on the firing line for a week, ten days steady, different ranges.”
“Then the invasion was coming off shortly there in France. Consequently the whole south side of the cadre, we were all shipped up to Fort Meade to start with and from there on we weren’t up there too awfully long before we shipped out. (We) didn’t know where we was going, out in the Atlantic anyway. We all went into different outfits.”
McIntyre was transferred to Co. C, 1st Battalion, 115th Regiment, 29th Division and would go into combat with a totally different group of soldiers than he had trained with.
“I didn’t know a soul leaving Shelby,” he said. “In some ways it might make it better. After training with someone for years (you are) just about a family.”
The 29th Division was selected to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
“I went in a few days after as a casualty replacement,” McIntyre said, once the beachhead had been secured. “(I) had to wade in on Omaha. Had to get on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry). So we had to wade in about waist deep in order to get ashore.”
The 29th “advanced from the beach towards Paris. That area was all hedgerow country which made it bad.”
Hedgerows were mounds of earth that were designed to mark field boundaries and contain cattle. Dating back to the Roman era, the hedgerows provided outstanding defensive opportunities for the Germans.
McIntyre estimated the hedgerows were typically about four feet high.
They slowed the Allied advance to a crawl and also posed problems for airborne troops.
“Then I remember seeing these glider troops… see several of them headed into the banks. I don’t know if they survived. Some of them burned, I knew.”
During one of the firefights in the hedgerows, a pair of gloves saved McIntyre from a serious, if not fatal, injury.
“We always wore a field jacket,” he explained. “If we held up any place, (you) better start digging in to protect yourself from artillery. (We) were about to make an advance (and had to go over a hedgerow mound). They were clipping bullets a lot over it (and I) didn’t know I had got hit. We had to pull back to get off that hill and I come to get my gloves out (of my jacket) and start digging a bit. Consequently, something was rattling around in there. That’s when I started to get a little shaky.”
What he found in those gloves was a round from a German burp gun, an MP-40. “They were the most deadly things,” he said.
“Right in the front of my jacket pocket. It was going for a vital place. I thought I heard something (and thought) it was a piece of rock or something that hit me. They were leather-faced, these gloves.”
The 29th was instrumental in the takeover of the French town of St. Lo, less than 30 miles from the Normandy coast.
McIntyre recalled seeing 3,000 Allied planes overhead that “sent St. Lo into a bunch of rubble. They figured it was a big strong hold for the Germans.” McIntyre and the rest of the 29th Division were the “first ones through St. Lo,” he said.
Taking control of the city was a key step in allowing the Allies to break out of hedgerow country.
“After we left Normandy (we were) transferred to the Brest area, another sea coast stronghold,” McIntyre said. “That’s where they had the big railroad guns. They were pretty deadly. When they come over, (they) could almost bury a good size house in the crater.”
As a port city, Brest was a key point to secure in order to continue to supply the Allied invasion. McIntyre saw it as “the best route to go in. (The Allies) had three different points they went in, different beaches.”
Brest was one of those.
“(We) was out in the field steady at Brest seven weeks before we pulled back for replacements (and) got to clean up a little bit. (We) had to detail a couple guys to go out and pick up the wounded and the dead. They wheeled back in there again… a whole truck load of bodies (on) 18 wheelers. Bodies stacked like cord wood. That was a gruesome sight.
“You got to wonder who is winning the war? They’d pick up Germans, too. It was rough all the way around.”
The 29th Division was then assigned to be part of the Rhineland Campaign into Germany.
According to 29th Division Morning Reports, McIntyre was promoted to Sergeant from Private First Class on August 22, 1944, to Staff Sergeant a month later in September and to Technical Sergeant on October 21, 1944, after being drafted at the rank, as he called it, of “as low as you could go. I don’t know to this day how I wound up being the leader of the platoon. Nobody asked me. So many of them left us and someone had to take over.” Approximately 36 GIs were in a platoon.
And the promotions brought added layers of responsibility and concern.
“I never got any sleep anyway,” he said. “(I) had to check the men out all along the line.
“There were a few episodes along the line. (We) had an outpost. A couple guys would sit out several yards ahead of the group… and report any activity. When I got in charge, I put some out (and checked on them every night). I couldn’t awaken either of them. The idea is to stay awake, at least one of them. I reach down to wake ’em up and my hand was wet. The Kraut’s had got in there and cut their throats. There was a gruesome sight there.”
And, one night, they were tasked with raiding the German town of Schierwaldenrath.
Having lost a unit in the town two days earlier, the American contingent was tasked with clearing the town and taking prisoners. As a platoon leader, McIntyre said he was “called into CP to get briefed on it. (We) didn’t use no artillery to let them know it was coming. (We) went in in darkness at 4 o’clock in the morning.”
The sector McIntyre’s platoon was tasked with clearing contained foxholes that were “empty on the picture. When we went in they were occupied.”
According to the Monday, October 16, 1944 edition of Stars and Stripes, the engineers were called in to blow up the buildings and that “except for 99 Germans taken prisoner, all of its defenders were killed.”
McIntyre called the raid a “nightmare.”
Later in the campaign, “we went up in there near Aachen, up near the Siegfried Line, I was into Germany,” McIntyre said. “We had been holding that town for two or three days.
“Westward moving out that one morning, they spied us moving. These mortars you know, (they) put about a dozen of them in the air before one ever hits. (I was) hit in one of my legs up there…hit in the heel and up the back of my leg.”
McIntyre was sent to a hospital in Belgium for a few days before being evacuated to England.
The change in hospitals was a welcome switch.
“Those buzz bombs the Germans had, V1s and V2s, they sound like a freight train going through there and I laid in the hospital in Belgium for a few days, not many, before I went to England. (I) could hear them going over there, could hear them cut out…. You were edgy all the time, especially when I was in (the hospital) this Belgian Bulge stuff come off. So that was a rough thing, (a) good thing to miss.”
Once back in England, McIntyre spent a couple months there recuperating.
The wound “was healing up pretty good,” he said, but noted that “down to my heel… my heel wasn’t healing.”
A doctor then told him he would be transferred to the “ZI.”
“That’s what they call the states, the Zone of the Interior,” he said. “So I was put on the Queen Elizabeth. (It) was turned into a troop ship.”
After three to four days on the water, McIntyre recalled the “happiest day of my life. We come in New York past (the Statue of) Liberty there.
“From there I went down to Virginia Beach to a convalescent hospital (for) another three to four months,” he explained. “Then from there I was transported to Camp Croft, South Carolina (to a) infantry training camp there. Consequently, I was teaching booby traps and flame throwers. That’s when they dropped the big bomb over Japan.”
He was relieved to find out the war was over. “I think I would have headed for the Pacific, otherwise.”
McIntyre’s combat experience gave him enough points to be discharged in December, 1945.
For his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star, the American Campaign Medal, European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three battle stars, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, the New York Conspicuous Service Cross and a medal for participation in the Normandy Campaign.
He said the Combat Badge was “worn on top of all the rest of them on your dress clothes. The best thing about it though, (it) made you $10 more a month over there.”
“You can’t go over there and know it all,” he reflected on going into combat. “Lot of things you had to learn… quite a few things. One of our officers…. said the closer you keep to the Germans why the better off you are. I thought ‘What a bunch of hogwash that is’ but as time went on I could see where he was right because the closer you was the more apt you were to see what they were hashing up to.”
He also explained that you had to be careful approaching dead Germans because they would “booby trap their own (deceased) guys sometimes. Somebody comes to move them, they might blow up a couple guys.
“We were the aggressor and they are the defender. The Germans were respected, you know. They’re human, too. They’re all in there, same thing.”
Making his way back to Warren County, there was a young lady waiting for him.
Before the war, “we had courted for a year or so, we weren’t married or engaged or nothing,” McIntyre said of his then-girlfriend Genevieve, who goes by Genny.
“I wasn’t about to get married,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be back or not. I didn’t want to tie anybody down.”
But, for three years, she waited.
“Now we’ve been married 68 years.” The couple had two sons, David and Gary.
But while his girlfriend waited for him, employment did not.
“Jobs was mighty scarce,” he said. “Most of the places had changed over to war equipment. (I) got a job at the Erie Railroad juggling freight and then with a boat factory in Falconer.
“Eventually, I got in with a building and painting contractor,” McIntyre explained. “(I) was with him for 13 years.”
And during that time, McIntyre built the house that he and Genevieve still live in on Pine Ridge Road in Busti.
“I built the house here in ’56,” McIntyre, now 91, explained. “We were building new homes. If I could help someone build someone else’s, I could build my own. Everything here, I didn’t want anyone else working in here. (I) didn’t trust them to do a good job.
He was talking about building a house, but it could have applied to his service and his approach to marriage and his life in general.
“If I couldn’t do a good job, I wasn’t going to do it.”