By Thomas L. Engleby
Engleby is a former Roanoke resident. He is a retired business owner and now lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.
This December and January mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. My two uncles, Richard (Dick) Wills and Hugh Wills both were in combat in that battle. This is their story.
Dick, Hugh and I all grew up in Raleigh Court. Dick was older. He enlisted in the 29th Division National Guard well before World War II, served his enlistment, was discharged and began employment with the Roanoke World-News. After the war began, he was drafted at age 35 and assigned to the 28th Division.
Hugh was younger. He had enlisted in the Guard at 18 and went on active duty with the 29th Division in February 1941, 10 months before Pearl Harbor. Hugh was later sent to Officer Candidate School and assigned to the 30th Division. Both of the brothers arrived in France shortly after D-Day, June 6, 1944. They participated in the breakout and fought in the hedgerows of France. By December they were along a line roughly at the border with France, Belgium and Luxembourg on the west and Germany on the east.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 16, the Germans launched the great counter-offensive with 200,000 troops and nearly 1,000 tanks committed to the battle. Their goal was to push the allies back across France to the English Channel.
The point of attack hit Dick’s 28th Division head on. His division had been recently mauled in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, was depleted, deprived of leadership and disorganized. They were supposedly on rest and recuperation. Dick and his unit were over run and captured on the first day and spent the remainder of the war in captivity. My earliest memories are of the family tears when the telegram arrived at Christmas saying that Uncle Dick was MIA and the celebration at Easter when we heard that he was a POW and in good health.
Hugh’s 30th Division was well north of the Bulge. They rushed south to protect the American left flank. Hugh was in a communication unit required to lay telephone wires in battle zones and keep them operational. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his performance in battle.
Both brothers survived the war. Dick returned to his employment with the-now Times-World Corp. in Roanoke and retired as Treasurer. Hugh was employed primarily by the Virginia Credit Union.
He lived in Lynchburg and later at Bennett Springs.
I am very proud of my uncles. They volunteered first. When their numbers were called, they served with valor and honor. They truly were part of “the Greatest Generation.”