a grinding machine operator for Blood Brothers in Allegan for over a
year before he entered the Army on June 6 1942. He traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia
for 3 months of basic training then to Fort Knox, Kentucky
for additional training on truck driving. His work at Blood Bros. on
universal joints got him this job. His unit was the 78th Field
Artillery Regiment, 13th Calvary which soon traveled to Norfolk. Here
Irwin was advanced to Private First class. They boarded a troop ship
and were bound for Africa. Some of
the division boarded ship in New
the division was grouped up with other ships. When the time was right,
they landed and saw their first war action at Casablanca, Morocco
on November 8th, 1942.
“TRUCK DRIVER LIGHT” where he drove 1/4 and 2 1/2 ton trucks hauling
supplies and equipment. On crossing Africa,
there was an event Irwin related to LaVerne. The unit’s convoy was traveling at night with
lights and they stopped for some reason. In the morning
he started to step out of the truck but stopped short, they were at the
a steep cliff. It was here, Russell Skinner had to hide in rugs.
Corps forces to the west, and Montgomery’s
Eighth Army which was pushing up the south toward the Mareth line.
deal with these enemies one at a time, he broke his Panzers from Faid Pass
through the weakest point in the American lines which were buttered
thin over a
long line. Two battalions of the 34th Infantry Division holding
two hills outside the pass delayed the Germans precious hours until
reinforcements could be summoned.
writer Hal Boyle, described some of the action: In
Rommel foresaw that German troops left in Africa
would be bottled up between the British First Army and the
these two battalions, taking hundreds prisoner, Rommel’s panzers drove
miles through Sbeitla and Kasserine Gap in western Tunisia, until
Thala by British tanks and American artillery of the 9th Infantry
which made a 400 mile march through winter storms to arrive in the nick
time. Another German column swinging around in a pincers from the south
taken Gafsa, Teriana and Thelepte. Alarmed by his losses and Montgomery’s
rapid drive toward the Mareth
line, Rommel reluctantly had to pull back his battered Panzers without
achieving either of his two greatest goals.
goals had been,
first, to seize American headquarters near Thebessa and all its
second, to swing northward through Thala behind British First Army’s
capture great Allied base at Constantine and perhaps even thrust west
Algiers itself, Supreme Headquarters of the Allied forces in Africa.
Rommel did achieve. He upset Allied plans and delayed for two months a
Allied offensive, thus prolonging the end of the African campaign until
German forces captured in the Tunisia
area ended up in the United States
at Camp Lakewood
the division prepared for an attack on Sicily. Irwin's unit boarded ships
again at Tunis, Tunisia, see photo right. The
Division as a whole did not enter combat until the invasion of Sicily, when it made an assault landing at Gela, 10 July
1943. After a short voyage they landed at Licata,
Sicily and captured the Island back from the Germans. The whole
division left the Island from Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and sailed West in the Mediterranean,
through the Straits of Gibraltar far out into the Atlantic, looping
back towards England,
avoiding the German subs.