Remembering: Private William Harold Huff by Evo G. Facchine
REMEMBERING………PRIVATE WILLIAM HAROLD “Toad” HUFF
William Harold “Toad” Huff was born in the Village of Caledonia on August 3, 1922, the eighth of ten children of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Huff. Mrs. Huff was the former Minnie Young. While all the children were born in Caledonia, Mr. and Mrs. Huff relocated their family to Buffalo, NY in 1943, some months after their son’s induction into the military.
His sister, Dolores Huff Youngmark, who fondly refers to him as “Billy”, remembers him as always keeping a full bucket of coal and a plentiful supply of wood on hand for heating the house. He also had a playful side. Dolores recalls “Billy” teasing his older sister Louella as she took over the cooking duties when their mother was away, by asking, ” Is potato soup the only thing you know how to cook?” All things aside, Delores always carries a special remembrance in her heart for it was brother Billy that bought her that first pair of bib overalls from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Much of the above paragraph is bound to confuse teens of today.
Like many who went to War, he was the likable kid next door, dubbed “Toad Belly” by his friends during his teen years because he was a little bigger around the middle than the other guys. Those many friends and early playmates remember him as a daring and courageous young fellow.
William Harold Huff graduated from Weedville High School in the Class of 1941. Employed at Speer Carbon Company at the time of the Pearl Harbor Attack by the Japanese, it was then that he first mentioned joining the Army to his family. In November of 1942 he entered the Army and received his basic training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin until July of 1943. After a two week furlough he was sent overseas for further training in Scotland. It was there that he volunteered to become one of the very special soldiers of World War II, he volunteered to become a “RANGER”.
Rangers were a special group of men trained and patterned after the “British Commando Forces” and destined to become a powerful force in shortening the War in Europe. The activation orders of the creation of the Rangers reads in part: All personnel will be chosen from volunteers of above normal mental and physical condition… under the age of 28 years and meeting the requirements of a parachutist. It was plain that the Rangers would be assigned the most difficult, most dangerous and most critical tasks of the war.
As William H. Huff completed the rigorous training that less than fifty percent of those who enter are able to complete, he no doubt lost that famous belly that gave his nickname, and it became just plain “Toad”. With all due respect that name will be used more often than not in the remaining story.
While son and brother, of the Huff family, trained in Scotland for the forthcoming Normandy Invasion the family settled into their new surroundings in Buffalo, NY. Here again sister Dolores recalls the uneasy feeling that came over her when the announcement of the D-Day Invasion had finally arrived. So vivid is her recollection that after all these years she remembers in was about 10:00 A.M. in the morning, she was in Latin Class, when her teacher made the announcement. Of course all the Caledonia folks will remember Dolores’ great memory because we all knew she could recite her ABC’s backwards faster than most of us could say them frontwards.
The Second and Fifth Ranger Battalions participated in the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. As a member of Company E, the Fifth Ranger Battalion, Toad fought his way on to a particular beachhead known as Omaha Dog White.
It was during the bitter fighting along the beaches that the Rangers gained their official motto.
As the situation became critical, Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, stated the entire assault forces must clear the beaches and advance inland. He turned to Lieutenant Colonel Max F. Schneider, commander of the Fifth Ranger Battalion, and said, “RANGERS, LEAD THE WAY!” Toad was there at that memorable moment and as it turned out, the Rangers moved forward off the beach and were the only Allied Unit to achieve their objective and gained the honor of moving the furthest inland on that historic day. Many Rangers were wounded or lost their lives that day, but Toad survived.
The Rangers fought their way through France with a major battle in Brest, France, a battle in which Company E of the Fifth Ranger Battalion definitely distinguished themselves. Then on to Belgium, Diesen, Ludweiler, St. Avold and Weiten. Training, skill and luck, kept Toad alive. Then came the campaign known as Irsch-Zerf. It was to be a 48 hour mission to cross the Saar River, infiltrate the enemy lines and cut the Irsch-Zerf Road. The mission had to be accomplished at all costs because the road was the only supply line available to the Germans to bring in reinforcements.
The 48 hour mission that began on February 23 lasted for more than four days. In the early morning hours of February 26 Company E was overrun by wave after wave of German soldiers. In the morning light, when Company F arrived to help, they found the ground in front of E company’s foxholes paved with the dead bodies of the enemy, the foxholes filled with American dead. Private William H. “Toad” Huff, Serial No. 33407532, was among the more than forty heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice for their country on that day. Toad was only 22 years old.
Ironically the Fifth Ranger Battalion would fight only one more battle before the end of the war with only three soldiers being killed.
This was not the only casualty to come to the Huff family, sister Wilda’s husband Jack Miller of Emporium was killed in action in November of 1944.
One final irony Private William Harold Huff was named after his uncle Private William Harold Huff who died of influenza in France while serving in the Army during World War I.
Originally buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg in Plot K, Row 12, Grave 284, he now rests in the Woodlawn National Cemetery, in Elmira, New York
William Harold Huff would be celebrating his eightieth birthday, a birthday many veterans enjoy and celebrate in these days, on August 22, 2002.
The detailed information about the Ranger history can be found in a book by Henry S. Glassman, entitled “Lead the Way, Rangers”. The following paragraph is also taken from that book, ” May their sacrifices and achievements be forever a symbol of what was necessary to preserve the American way of life, and by the grace of God, may the American people never forget them.
“LEST WE FORGET………”