Vernon Bobo - Remembering the War Years
By Deborah Turner
Four-time wounded WWII veteran Vernon
medals he received over 5 campaigns, including the
silver star, the bronze star with 2 oak clusters,
purple heart with 3 oak clusters, among many more.
Vernon Bobo was inducted into the
Army on January 26, 1943 on his 20th birthday. His
friend, Gene Brockman, who lived just down the road
from him in Trezevant, was inducted the same day.
"We went in together and we stayed together," Bobo
Bobo left his young sweetheart,
Jewell Arrington, behind in Trezevant. When he was
able to come home on furlough, the couple married on
Jewell says they didn't mean to get married so soon:
"I had my ring, I was just a kid but I did have my
ring. We didn't mean to get married until he got out
of the service, but he came home on furlough and we
After about six months of training, the young men
were transferred to the 83rd Infantry Division. In
time, they were lucky enough to be stationed at Fort
Breckenridge, Kentucky and Bobo could go home every
By the time the 83rd, along with Bobo and Brockman,
set out for England on the 19th of April, 1944,
Jewell was expecting their first child. In his
pocket, Bobo carried a small photo of his young
wife, a picture that today is displayed along with
his medals and other mementos of the war. "I carried
that in my pocket all through the war," Bobo says
strongly, as if the photo had somehow given him
strength to endure.
From England, the troops set sail for Omaha Beach in
Normandy, France, arriving on June 18, 1944, just
days after D-Day's June 6th invasion had filled the
same beach with vast numbers of American, British
and Canadian troops.
For five days, however, the men of the 83rd remained
aboard the Liberty ships that rocked stormy waters
off the coast of Normandy, bashing docks set up to
receive the troops. Finally LCI and LST landing
crafts were able to run alongside the ships and
receive the passengers and transport them to land.
The secured beach nonetheless held its dangers, with
German artillery able to deliver shells miles from
their points of origin. Wounded soldiers from the
front were carried in stretchers along the beach for
transport to hospitals in England. The men of the
83rd had trained for about sixteen months for the
trials they were about to encounter, but neither
their training nor the scene that lay before them on
the beach of Omaha could prepare them for what would
The Division moved toward Carentan where on the 26th
day of June it relieved the 502nd Parachute Regiment
of the 101st Airborne Division in what some have
said "at that time, was probably the toughest in the
American sector of the Normandy front."
Bobo was an assistant squad-leader in his platoon,
which fell under Company I of the Third Battalion in
the 331st Regiment of the 83rd Division.
Ironically, it was Independence Day - the 4th of
July, 1944 - that the 83rd commenced their first
offensive in an effort to gain the high ground near
Periers, France. Despite the massive artillery
preparation that preceded the advance of the 2nd and
3rd battalions, enemy resistance and counterattacks
proved overwhelming. It was in this battle that Bobo
lost his friend, Gene Brockman. In fact, losses
among both enlisted men and officers were severe,
with even the regimental commander, Col. Martin
Barndollar, killed by sniper fire at Company I's
The men were forced to fight among endless hedgerows
and in marshes, encountering the enemy at every
turn. They grew to fear the "88", the fierce German
tanks that appeared out of nowhere. As the more
highly trained American soldiers died, they were
replaced with fresh troops who had received little
more than basic training - soldiers who just weeks
ago were students, farmers, factory and office
workers. These men were pitted against hardened
German SS and Panzer divisions - elite German
infantry and tank teams that traveled seemingly
unmolested along sunken roads while surrounding
fields were riddled with mines and other snares. The
American troops were assailed in a constant struggle
- day and night - against forces that seemed
In eight days, Bobo rose from assistant squad leader
to platoon sergeant as men before him lost their
lives in battle, although he protested greatly
against the assignment to his commander, Captain
Marion B. Cooper, who at a reunion many years later
joked, "It didn't do you any good, did it?"
Other changes were taking place in rapid succession
as the division faltered, in eight days going
through five or six regimental commanders, two of
whom were killed, two who were relieved of duty and
at least one who was replaced, the most recent with
Col. Robert H. York. The Division had also lost
three battalion commanders and at least five or six
company commanders. 800 enlisted men and 75 officers
had been killed. The few gains made were
overshadowed by unparalleled misery. Said Leo
Schneider, a soldier of the 83rd, in memorial of
their leader, "How can I explain to anybody who does
not know the horror, the fear, the weariness, and
distress of infantry combat, just how we, the
troops, felt - how depressed and low we were - at
the time Colonel York took command."
Vernon Bobo knows full well what Col. York's
assignment as regimental commander meant to him and
other troops who survived the war, his fingers
fairly caressing the pages of a publication in which
he took pen in hand to mark special paragraphs
relating to the commander.
No sooner had the Colonel assumed command than he
was ordered to attack. In a display of great wisdom,
York persuaded the division commander to postpone
any offensive action by the 331st. He then ordered
rest for his people while he visited every company
and reorganized each combat element within the
The following day, the 2nd and 3rd
battalions attacked with the Taute River as their
objective. In the fierce fighting that took place
that day, Bobo was wounded when shrapnel found its
mark in his leg. Before he was wounded, however, he
found the courage that comes to certain men in
desperate times, courage that one wonders whether he
possesses until that instant thet action is
required. According to documentation in Bobo's
possession, he was awarded the Silver Star for
gallantry in action on 13 July, 1944 near Chateau
d'Auxais, France. The narrative of his actions reads
as follows: "When his company was subjected to
intense machine gun fire from an enemy tank placed
in the line of its advance, Private Bobo, completely
disregarding his own safety, took an anti-tank
launcher and an extra round of ammunition and
advanced toward the tank line along a hedgerow which
was being regularly sprayed with machine gun fire
and artillery bursts. Reaching an effective range,
he stood up in direct view of the tank and fired. As
it began to turn he again fired, secured a direct
hit on the turret and knocked it out."
For Bobo, the worst was yet to come. Again and
again, American forces had tried to cross a small
river, the crossing made more difficult by mile-wide
swampy conditions on either side of the waterway,
caused by the German's flooding of the area.
Engineers had constructed a Bailey Bridge (a truss
bridge connected manually by connecting panels end
to end) with demolition charges strategically placed
in case it was necessary to blow up the bridge to
prevent aiding the enemy.
The Germans turned the tables, however, setting the
charges off before American troops could cross.
Finally, on the 19th day of July, after daytime
advances by other groups had been repulsed, the 3rd
battalion crossed the river in the dark of night,
catching the German troops unawares.
Says Bobo, "We were overrun on the LaVerde Peninsula
and my platoon had 33 killed." Of 35 men in his
platoon, only he and another soldier survived, both
wounded in the fray.
By the end of July, the battle-weary troops had
succeeded in their efforts and, after 23 days of
non-stop combat through days darkened by smoke, dust
and dread and nights illuminated by artillery fire
and absolute terror, the troops were allowed to
After only a day or two, the soldiers of the 83rd
moved into Brittany where, in August, the supposedly
invincible Citadel of St. Malo was breached and the
Nazi commander, Colonel Von Aulock, forced to
surrender. Meanwhile, other components of the 83rd
advanced upon Dinard, St. Lunaire, and St. Brieue,
each falling under the might of the American
soldiers' assaults. The Isle de Cezembre proved more
difficult an objective, holding out despite intense
air and artillery bombardment until the 3rd of
September. The soldiers of the 83rd captured over
13,000 Germans during the offensive at Brittany.
For the next month, the 83rd assumed responsibility
of the protection of the entire right flank of the
Third U.S. Army as it proceeded across France. In
the midst of this period of time, on September 17,
1944, approximately 20,000 Nazi troops surrendered
to the 83rd as they attempted to return to Germany,
aware of the hopelessness of continued struggle.
It was at Wormeldange in Luxembourg that Bobo was
again wounded on November 19th, 1944.
Less than a month later, on December 12th he was
again wounded during an offensive against Nazi
forces in Gey, Germany, located at the edge of the
Hurtgen Forest. The town was superbly reinforced
with each house acting as a well-supplied fortress.
The American forces, in contrast, fought without
water to quench their thirst and many without food,
still emerging victorious after five days of
fighting, on the 10th of December.
After the German assault in the Ardennes began on
December 16th, creating the huge bulge in the Allied
lines that initiated the Battle of the Bulge, Bobo
and other wounded soldiers were sorely needed in
their units. Bobo was sent back to his platoon from
In a rude twist of fate, soldiers contemplating a
peaceful Christmas day were advised they would be
moving out the following day. They fought through
the bitter cold German winter, with temperatures at
night falling as low as 27 below zero. Where
formerly trench foot was a common fear because of
marshy terrain, frostbite became a major threat to
the health of the soldiers.
The battle raged for ten days and nights, the troops
gaining little in the way of rest or rations, yet
again their efforts proved fruitful as they did
again and again as the war wound down through
battles in the Rhineland and Central Europe.
In all, Bobo fought in five major battles with the
83rd - Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes (Battle
of the Bulge), Rhineland and Central Europe. He was
awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with 2 oak
leaf clusters, the Purple Heart with 3 oak leaf
clusters, the European Theatre of Operations Medal
with five battle stars, the Victory Medal, Good
Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, American
Defense Medal and the American Campaign Medal.
He came back to the States from Holland on March 25,
1945 on what was to be a 45-day furlough. It was the
5th of May before he touched American soil again and
was able for the first time to see his baby girl,
Sandra, who was 11 months old.
During his furlough, the Army began using the point
system to determine which soldiers could go home
soonest. Anyone who had 85 points was eligible for
discharge. With over 120 points, Bobo was discharged
on the 26th of June, after the European struggle had
The Bobos continued living in Trezevant after his
discharge, with Vernon farming while Jewell worked
at the Henry I. Siegel plant in Trezevant, where she
was employed for 27 years. During the next ten
years, the couple added two more children to their
family: Danny and Cathy.
In 1955, the couple expanded their dairy farming
operation when they moved to McLemoresville, where
their fourth child, Susan, was born.
After 19 years, Vernon slowed down his formal
farming career while "hobby farming" with his son,
Danny. The pair grew alfalfa hay and raised catfish
while Danny also participated in hog farming.
During his hobby-farming years, Bobo was employed
for 17 years as a night watchman at H.I.S. "I'd work
all night, get off at 7 (o'clock) and sleep till
noon, then I'd get up and work for myself," he says.
Jewell worked all-told for 40 years in different
Since moving back to Trezevant, the Bobos have
accented their yard with an amazing array of
beautiful flowering plans and greenery that would
rival that found in any botanical gardens.
They love to travel, having visited every state in
the union plus 17 foreign countries over four
continents. They drove to Alaska in 1992, a trip
that took nine days one way.
They began attending the 83rd Division reunions in
1962, the most recent one being held in Jackson,
Tennessee just three weeks ago. Eight members of the
unit were able to attend the event, representing the
states of Connecticut, Oklahoma, Ohio, Georgia, two
from Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In 1973, Vernon and Jewell joined other members of
the 83rd in a reunion in which five busloads of
former soldiers and their family members traveled
from Omaha Beach to Germany, where they were hailed
with great fanfare by the German populace.
Nowadays, Bobo realizes that war is glorious only in
its end and not in it means: "Now, of course, I've
got older and I know that we don't have no glory in
thinking about the Germans that lost their lives
because they were out there just like we were; most
of them were out there just because they had to be.
After, all, they had mothers and wives just like we
Few wars have been fought for so noble a cause,
however, as to free the world, a continent, a
country, or a town of an evil so corrupt as that
perpetuated by the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, or at
so great a cost.
It is to men like Vernon Bobo that we owe a great
measure of respect and pride in a hard job, well
done. For, as Col. Robert H. York said: "Few, if
any, American forces have been called upon to make
greater efforts and greater sacrifices than did this
Combat Team in the hedgerows of Normandy or during
the bitter Battle of the Bulge."