Biographies - Guy Barber
 
Full Name: Guy Barber
Unit: Cannon Co.276th Inf.

The Trailblazer, a memoir of Guy Barber by Priscilla Miller for the October 19 edition of the Elk Rapids News. Used with permission

Guy Barber grew up in Alden. In the fall of 1941 rumors of war were in the air. Guy decided to hitch a ride to Detroit on a cattle truck and see what a big city looked like. He had an aunt who lived in the suburbs and he went to stay with her.

There was a young girl by the name of Maryjane Gaylord and Guy had a crush on her “She was such a pretty little thing she reminded me of a movie star” he says.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed he knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be drafted. “our country really was not prepared to go to war” he says, “I really didn’t want to go but knew that if they called me I would go and do the best job that I could do.”

When it became apparent that he would be drafted at anytime. Maryjane told him she wanted to get married. she said, “If there’s a chance you wouldn’t be coming back then at least I want to have your baby.” “Janey” turned 17 and on the 12th of September they were married.

A month later In October of 1942 just one day before his 21st birthday he received his draft notice. “That October draft was the largest of W.W.II.” says Guy.

He kissed his wife good bye and boarded the troop train in Kalamazoo. That train ride took 9 days and along the way it made frequent stops. At every stop there were tearful good byes as additional troops left their loved ones and boarded the train.

When they reached Midford, Oregon trucks transported them to Camp White (which was still under construction at that time) for basic training. They arrived just in time to eat Thanksgiving dinner.

Guys wife gave birth to their son in June of 1943. He finally managed to get a furlough and meet his new son when the baby was five months old.

His training was extensive and lasted for over two years. He underwent further training at Yakima Washington’s Field Artillery Learning Center where he learned how to operate the one hundred and five MM Howitzers.

Guy wanted to be a fighter pilot and signed up for the Army Air Corps. He went to Buckley Field in Colorado for pre flight training and then on to Stockton Field in California where he was to begin his flight training.

His orders were changed he reported to Camp Adair Oregon where he was assigned to the 70th Infantry Division (known as the Trailblazers.) It originated as a “triangular” division - a group of infantry organized into three regiments. They were the 274th, the 275th, and the 276th. Each regiment had three battalions, each with four companies. It was one of the few divisions that had a cannon company ( Guy’s) an antitank company, service company as well as a medical detachment as part of each regiment.

In 1943 he took part in the Oregon Maneuvers in semi desert conditions. He was trained in map reading learning how to pinpoint troop locations. He used an edible overlay that was marked with strategic information. The overlay when placed on top of an ordinary map showed the necessary locations. It was tissue paper thin and was to be eaten to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Guy was to remain a Private during his entire time in the service. He had been slated to receive training as an officer but a misunderstanding arose when there was a conflict in his orders. Initially Guy had received written orders allowing him to return home to visit his wife. When an officer told him he could not go home he disregarded the verbal order and went home anyway.

In July of 1944 the 70th. Infantry Division was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It took 20 trains, each carrying about 800 men to do this.

This was just a stop over for the men who had trained in Oregon but it was basic training for other soldiers arriving at the base. Having had experienced in Oregon with the “Blazers” Guy helped with this training.

A Colonel approached Guy and offered him the opportunity to become an officer. When he learned that he would have to remain in the states for a few more months and would not be able to ship out with the boys he had just trained he declined. “If, they were going into combat then I wanted to go with them” he said.

In November of 1944 he traveled by train to Boston where he boarded the troop ship USS West Point.

The ship previously known as the America had been the largest and fastest luxury liner at that time and was known as the “ last word” in luxurious ocean travel. It was hurriedly recalled from a pleasure cruise in late May of 1941 and was acquired by the Navy on June 1st for conversion into a troop transport.

She entered the builder’s yards on June 6th. for conversion and was commissioned the USS West Point on June 16th. She was repainted gray and during the war she became known as The Gray Ghost.

When Guy first saw the ship he was impressed by her immense size. She was equipped with 40 mm antiaircraft guns and carried depth charges for use against submarines.

On December 6th. 1944 the ship departed from Boston with two regiments of Trailblazers and a detachment of Army Nurses. The ship was filled to capacity (8,000 men) each man carried with him a riffle or other weapon, gas mask, cartridge belt, ammunition bag, a 40 pound field pack, a duffel bag weighing another 40 pounds and wore a steel helmet.

The voyage took nine days and none of the men aboard ship knew their destination. They were escorted for a time by twin engine Coast Guard Planes flying overhead but eventually the planes had to return before running out of fuel and they proceeded without any air cover.

They traveled via the Straits of Gibraltar and on to Marseilles, France. As the Striates of Gibraltar came into view there was a strong jolt. The West Point made a hard U turn heading away from the Straits. The captain came on the intercom and apologized about the delay but said something had been sighted and not knowing if it was friend or foe they were leaving the area. ( they later learned it was an enemy submarine.)

A short time later the West Point was approached by a barrage of English planes flying out from Gibraltar. These planes provided the ship with air cover all the way into the harbor at Marseilles.

They got off the ship at Marseilles on the 16th of December. Word that “the entire Western front was in danger of collapse” had reached headquarters. Hitler had announced to the world that “Paris and Antwerp would be in German hands by New Years.”

On the 19th the “Trailblazers” were immediately sent to the front. They headed strait north to Leon. Guy drove a Jeep leading a truck convoy, most of the infantry came by train. (decrepit freight cars from W.W.I called “Forty and Eight's” because they could accommodate 40 men or eight horses were used) The cars, had been used by the French to transport livestock and were taken over by the U. S. Army to move troops to the front lines.

On December 26th the train came to a stop at Brumath and the men disembarked on foot. On December 28th the 70th. Infantry Division saw their first action. According to Guy they lost 6 men that 1st day.

The Trailblazers fought valiantly despite heavy losses supply shortages, frigid temperatures and heavy snows. Guy gave aid to two wounded comrades pulling them to safety while under enemy fire. One suffered a severe head wound the other leg wounds. Guy never learned if they survived. He would later be awarded two Bronze Stars for his brave actions.

Guy was a messenger (runner) his assignment was to carry messages between the forward observers at the front and report back to the commanders. These messages were committed to memory because written one’s might fall into enemy hands.

Guy says, “there were three forward observers at each outpost and one always stood guard.” As he approached the areas where they were the one on guard would challenge him and he would use a password to identify himself. The guard might say “East” and I would reply “West” says Guy.

One day as he was climbing out of his Jeep he collapsed in a snow bank. He had gone 51 days with little or no sleep. As he was being carried on a stretcher to a makeshift hospital near the front line he heard a medic say “ this boy’s almost gone.”

He thought at the time “if I don’t move they might bury me.” Guy remembers trying to talk or move but try as he might he was so exhausted he could do neither. At the hospital he was given nourishment, kept warm and slept for four days strait. Immediately upon his release from the hospital he returned to the front.

He saw action with the 276th. during the Battle of the Bulge and was with them as they penetrated the Siegfried Line also known as “the Westwall” it consisted of a line of thick concrete bunkers “called pill boxes” and pyramid shaped concrete obstacles called “Dragon’s teeth” that ran along the Rhine River near the border between Germany and France. It provided an almost impenetrable obstacle for the forces as they tried to advance into Germany.

The Trailblazers were in the line for 86 consecutive days of combat. They liberated 58 towns and took 668 prisoners. They suffered 835 killed in action, 2713 wounded, 397 taken as prisoner’s of war and 54 missing in action.

On May 7th 1945 as Guy was leading a convoy from Salzburg Austria back into Germany when he noticed a group of fighter planes overhead. They broke off one by one flying down the length of the long convoy then banked and went 45 degrees up and performed a cork screw maneuver and did roll overs. Guy knew from his time spent in the air corps that they were doing Victory Rolls!

Shortly afterwards a group of bombers flew across the convoy, made a circle off in the distance and emptied their bombs into a field. As they flew past they dipped their wings at the convoy. The men knew then that the war must be over.

After the war Guy passed thru Dachau and saw the prison camp. According to Guy the 45th Infantry had just taken the prison guards into custody. “ I saw things with my own eyes that I would not have ever believed” he says.

In October of 1945 he returned home to Alden where he and Maryjane raised a family of eight children. Today at the age of 85 Guy admits that even now on occasion he still wakes in the night with memories of combat.

He remains active and can remember dates and places from his time spent overseas as if it were yesterday. He can often be seen in downtown Alden proudly wearing his jacket with the Trailblazer emblem on it and looks forward to possibly attending one of their reunions in the near future.

I would like to acknowledge that some of the information contained in this story has been used with the permission of the 70th Infantry Division’s web site.