Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emerson!

For TRAEA's Grandma, Emerson Herbert Hills, born October 6, 1924, represents the questions, challenges and rewards of genealogy.  In the first place, he was someone who should have been more well known, but for a convergence of unfortunate circumstances.
  • He was an only child; his father was an only child.
  • His parents divorced about the time he graduated from high school.
  • Records of his World War II service in the Army incinerated during the 1973 National Archives building fire in St. Louis.
  • His father never mentioned him in front of a subsequent family.
  • His high school transcript, snippets of Army records and the newspaper report of his death contain most of the written information that apparently exists about him today.
Graduating in June 1943, Emerson enlisted at Fort Devens, the Framingham, MA, reception center for New England draftees.  Initially, he was part of the Army Specialized Training Project at Northeastern University.  He was ultimately assigned as a combat engineer with the 101st Infantry Regiment (26th Infantry Division), the highly esteemed Yankee Division, at Fort Jackson, SC.

In 2007, the Yankee Division Veterans Association reprinted The History of the 26th Yankee Division, 1917 - 1919, 1941 - 1945.  And it is from this detailed account that we follow Emerson to Camp Shanks and to nearby the docks in New York City.  Troop ships assembled there made up "the largest armada ever floated by man," 101 vessels of all varieties.  Leaving New York on August 24, 1944, the ships arrived in northern France about two weeks later on September 7.  In keeping with the questions surrounding this soldier, Transport & Ships for Yankee Division has these ships leaving August 27.  The latter site lists the 101st Infantry Regiment on the Saturnia, a "borrowed" Italian cruise liner.

Once disembarked Yankee Division plunged immediately into the war—booby traps, mines, supply transports, mud, dead comrades, brutal combat—as they made their way through France.

Emerson was killed in action November 9, 1944, just two months after arriving in France.  But in his death lies another question.  The US Army records his death as being in Aachen, Germany.  According to its History, however, the 26th Infantry Division was in combat roughly 100 miles south, near Metz and Nancy.

Emerson's burial site was officially Lorraine, France, today the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial.  About 10 years ago TRAEA's grandma went looking for this soldier's burial site, now under the auspices of the American Battle Monuments Commission.  But Emerson wasn't there.  Today I would go to the US Department of Veterans Affairs gravesite locator.  But then, after months of frustration, I made a phone call — it took just about two minutes before I heard, "We have him here at Arlington."  Now we know that his mother repatriated his remains in 1948 so that today, Emerson Herbert Hills lies near a large tree, surrounded by comrades, with a beautiful view of the Washington Monument.

Emerson's photo arrived by way of Bob, Holly and Margaret.

Tree link: 7th great grandson of Joseph Hills

No comments:

Post a Comment