The numbing winter cold. snow and wind pulsating across western Europe in late 1944 slowed troops down in Belgium as the Allies faced both the elements of weather and Germans.
Christmas Day 1944: Sgt. Luther Gordon and his fellow infantrymen hunkered down defensively along the Outhe River to prevent the German troops and their equipment from crossing a bridge as described by his granddaughter Jaymi Bryant in a narrative.
The Battle of the Bulge in which Gordon fought became the last major German offensive campaign of World War II that was launched in the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. That two-month battle resulted in the Allies defeating the Germans, a prelude that Adolph Hitler’s military ranks were thinning and that overall defeat looked inevitable.
Meanwhile, in the frosty skies above them, heavy U.S. bombers and fighter escorts exchanged fire with German fighters. As an Army soldier in the 290th Infantry, 75th Infantry fighting in Belgium, Gordon and the rest of a column moved out and headed toward a small town to wait for the chow trucks. The distant sound of shooting sounded closer for Sgt. Luther Gordon. After Gordon and his men had a cold snack — not a hot meal as promised — they moved out with the column reaching the top of a nearby hill.
“Word came back that there were dead Germans in the road ahead,” he remembered in the memoir written 24 years ago. “This put the realization into most of us that we were about to engage the enemy.”
Within the timber, soldiers established their positions with platoons aligning their mortars and machine guns. Gordon and his buddies dug into the right flank, while other soldiers scattered to other positions.
“That was the last time I saw either our second squad or the mortar squads,” Gordon remembered. “I know they were somewhere in the timber but did not know where.”
Away from their positions were the Germans, equally entrenched in the wooden area with tanks and artillery. Fighting had commenced between the American soldiers and Germans with casualties occurring on both sides.
The fighting became fiercer as Gordon described.
“It was while along the edge of the woods that Tommy Mathis came and told me the other ammo bearer, Tom Womble, had been bayoneted and killed. Tommy was in a state of shock and worried about his twin brother who was in the other M.G. Squad somewhere down off the hill. I told him to take off. Shortly after Tommy left Eddie Winsjansen, our second gunner, came by and said, “I am going off the hill, Eddie had a hole in his helmet with blood coming down his face and a bloody rip in his pant leg.
“1st Lt. ‘Dutch’ Meier came by and said he was going to scout the hill. He said if he did not come back that what NCO’s remaining were to take the rest of the Co. off the hill. (Not many of us left by then.) A short time later one of ‘Dutch’s’ messengers came back and said ‘Dutch’ had been captured, stood against a tree and shot in both arms. Those of us still in the area decided to go up and get “Dutch”. As we started up the hill the second messenger came down and said “Dutch” had been killed.”
During the battle, a German sniper shot Gordon in the left arm, but he continued to return fire until he depleted his ammunition. Undaunted by his lack of ammo, Gordon raced to a captured German machine gun position that had been captured earlier, grasped the weapon and began to return deadly fire again until reinforcements arrived.
The second time Gordon suffered a bullet wound came in May 1945, sadly on the same day his brother was killed and who is buried in the 10th Mountain Division Cemetery in Italy.
Gordon received two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star., quite the heroism from a man the Army drafted after he tried to enlist in the Marines.
As many heroes from The Greatest Generation, Gordon never talked about his gallant deeds during World War II, yet his family felt the strong need his story would not be forgotten. A retired California Fire district manager, Gordon lived in Benton and Bishop, Calif., before relocating to Fallon this year in April. He moved to Bishop after his wife of 68 years died, and he suffered a fall earlier this year that prompted his son to move him to Northern Nevada.
Through the Honor Flight Nevada program, Gordon and his son Jeff flew to the nation’s capital in June for a three-day tour to see both the civilian and military monuments and to share camaraderie with other veterans.
Jeff accompanied his father, who is a resident at The Homestead in Fallon, on both the flight and with our interview. At 92-years old, Luther Gordon has difficulty with his sight and hearing. Jeff said the trip left an indelible impression on both men. After boarding a flight from Reno to Baltimore with much fanfare, the veterans and their caretakers or family members saw an appreciative nation extend its arms to give each veteran the hugs and gratitude that each deserved. Once they arrived at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, two fire trucks sprayed water over a Southwest 737 jet before they deplaned.
“There was a line of people clapping their hands and greeting the veterans,” Jeff recalled of their early evening arrival.
As the veterans headed to their buses, other military men and women in uniform stood at attention and saluted. Their return trip to Reno also provided an enthusiastic welcome with a huge crowd cheering the veterans with banners and cheers.
After resting Friday night at a hotel in Washington, the veterans then spent Saturday, the second day, touring Washington, D.C. and visiting the sights.
“We met Bob Dole (former U.S. senator from Kansas and World War II hero) at the World War II memorial,” Jeff said. “He tries to go anytime he knows there’s an Honor Flight. “We went to Arlington (National Cemetery) and saw the changing of the guard and the placing of the wreaths.”
For the eight hours they were touring Washington, Jeff said they saw monuments dedicated to each branch of military service. The veterans – many of whom had never visited Washington — expressed awe at the sights and with the people they met. Since the day was also the anniversary of the start of the Korean War, they also witnessed Korean soldiers at the monument reading names of people who died. After arriving back at the hotel, the veterans had mail call where they received packets and letters from school children or family members.
This led to some veterans talking about their experiences.
“It was hard to keep a dry eye hearing all the stories,” Jeff said. “It was the most rewarding part (of the trip) to see the smiles on their faces.”