Alvis Hillhouse was 20-years-old when he received his draft notice in 1942, just months after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor led to the U.S. officially entering World War II.
After basic training at Fort Bradley, Kansas, he soon found himself assigned to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, 9th Armored Division and traveling on the Queen Mary bound for England. Once the ship arrived, the soldiers were shipped north for training for several months.
On June 6, 1944, PFC Hillhouse found himself on another boat along with 156,000 other troops heading for the 50-mile stretch of beaches along the Normandy Coast. Hillhouse was about to become part of the largest amphibious military assault in history, the D-Day Invasion.
“I landed on Omaha Beach,” he said. “I didn’t go in the first group. A lot of them didn’t make it.”
From Omaha Beach, Hillhouse followed Gen. Patton through France and Belgium.
“We built bridges, and we blew up bridges,” he said. “I carried an M1 rifle — I had to do a lot of shooting.”
Like most military men who have witnessed a lot, Hillhouse is vague about events about the war record Patton’s army was compiling.
Hillhouse admitted he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, known as the largest battle fought on the Western European Front and the largest battle fought by the United States. The Bulge was a 50-mile wide offensive attempt by the Germans to create a wedge between the American and British armies in France. If successful, it would have allowed the Germans to recapture the port of Antwerp in The Netherlands and deny the Allies important access to the port. The month-long battle involved about 500,000 German, and 600,000 American and 55,000 British troops.
“It was bad up there,” Hillhouse said. “Them Germans had us all surrounded for a while. Patton got the 1st Airborne, and we got out of it. We liked to freeze to death at the Battle of the Bulge. It was bad up there.”
In March 1945, Hillhouse witnessed the American-crossing of the last standing bridge over the Rhine River. The Germans had wired the 400-yard long, three-span Luttendorf Bridge — also known as the Bridge at Remagen — for destruction when Patton’s Army showed up and cut the wires allowing only two small charges to go off.
The Americans crossed the bridge, took over the German village of Erpel and started conquering the German interior. Forty-eight hours later, during the German’s failed attempt to recapture the bridge and village, it collapsed from a German air and artillery attack.
“We got with the 1st Army and met the Russians at the Elbe River,” Hillhouse said. “It was almost the end of the war.”
Ten months after arriving on Omaha Beach, on April 26, 1945, Hillhouse, with Patton’s Army, reached the Elbe River where they met up with the Russians marking the final days of the war.
VE Day was May 8, 1945.
“I was glad to get back to Mississippi,” Hillhouse said about his discharge in 1946 after the war ended.