Private Howard W. Hill (1923–1944)

Howard Hill in a detail from a 1943 Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity group photo (Courtesy of Jim Sterner, enhancement using MyHeritage)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareStudent
BranchService Number
U.S. Army12100510
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “K,” 335th Infantry Regiment, 84th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Bronze Star, Purple HeartRhineland

Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my previous article about Staff Sergeant Horace C. Brown, who also served in the 335th Infantry Regiment.

Early Life & Family

An article about Hill’s third birthday printed on September 8, 1926 (The Evening Journal)

Howard Wallace Hill was born in Wilmington, Delaware on September 8, 1923.  It appears that he was the only child of William James Hill (a clerk, 1893–1978) and Ethel Richards Hill (née Deputy, 1898–1971).  Sometime after September 8, 1926, the family moved to Ohio for a few years.  The family was recorded on the census on April 8, 1930, living at 1229 Brockley Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio—located just west of Cleveland.  Census records indicate that by April 1, 1935, the Hill family had returned to Wilmington.  They were recorded living at 224 West 14th Street on April 9, 1940.  Hill was an Eagle Scout and a Sea Scout.

After graduating from Pierre S. duPont High School, he began studying chemical engineering at the University of Delaware, class of 1945.  While in college, he played basketball.  Hill joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity along with another future member of the 84th Infantry Division, Jim Sterner.

When Hill registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, the registrar described him as standing about six feet, one inch tall and weighing 170 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.


Military Training

Hill entered the U.S. Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps on December 8, 1942, along with some other University of Delaware students.  Jim Sterner recalls that the group was sworn in at Fort DuPont, Delaware.  According to a September 16, 1948 Journal-Every Evening article, Hill went on active duty on January 9, 1943.  Information in the article suggests he was briefly stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey—where most Delawareans who joined the U.S. Army during that period began their careers—before attending basic training at Camp Hood, Texas.  Hill’s father listed his son’s original unit as 3rd Platoon, Company “A,” 132nd Battalion.  This was likely the 132nd Tank Destroyer Training Battalion, which was located at Camp Hood.  Private Hill then entered the Army Specialty Training Program (A.S.T.P.), which allowed him to continue his studies at a university.  However, the U.S. Army terminated the program in March 1944 due to a projected manpower shortage due to the upcoming invasion of France.

After A.S.T.P. ended, Hill was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana on April 1, 1944.  Sterner, who joined the division the same day, recalls being disappointed to end up in the infantry, remarking to another soldier, “You know, the Army’s got to be playing an April Fool’s Joke.” 

Sterner said that there was friction between the older original members of the division and the younger, better educated former A.S.T.P. men.  At the beginning, Sterner recalled, the 84th was “two different divisions,” though he noted that in combat, “we became a unit in a hurry.” 

Private Hill joined Company “K,” 335th Infantry Regiment.  According to a statement by his father, Hill shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation aboard the Sterling Castle on September 30, 1944.  Shelby L. Stanton wrote in his book World War II Order of Battle that the 335th Infantry Regiment shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on September 29, 1944, arriving in England on October 10, 1944.


Combat in the European Theater

The 84th Infantry Division arrived in Normandy in early November 1944.  The division moved quickly to the front, by that point located at the fortifications along the Germany border that the Allies referred to as the Siegfried Line.  The 335th Infantry Regiment was attached to other divisions for much of the month.  3rd Battalion, 335th Infantry Regiment (which included Private Hill’s Company “K,”) was attached to the 30th Infantry Division on November 9, to the 2nd Armored Division on November 21, and to the 102nd Infantry Division on November 24).

In his 1946 book, The 84th Infantry Division in the Battle of Germany, Theodore Draper wrote that the 335th Infantry Regiment entered the front lines in the vicinity of Aachen, Germany on November 10, 1944.  Some men saw action during patrols (or while fighting off Germans probing their positions).  3rd Battalion, 335th Infantry Regiment advanced on Birk on November 16, 1944, in support of the 30th Infantry Division, but saw only limited action during those first two weeks on the front lines. 

The 335th rejoined the rest of the 84th Infantry Division on November 26, for an upcoming assault on Lindern, Germany.  Draper described the plan for Private Hill’s regiment as follows:

As for the 335th, two of its battalions were going to attack simultaneously. Its 3rd Battalion [including Private Hill’s Company “K”] was sent to Lindern itself. Its 2nd Battalion was sent out to get a hill between Lindern and Beeck. Its 1st Battalion was held in reserve. The infantry was supported by tanks, engineers, and artillery.

Early on the morning of November 29, 1944, 3rd Battalion began its advance from Immendorf, Germany under cover of darkness.  Draper wrote that the men “were stripped down to the bare essentials, a rifle belt, gas mask, two bandoleers of ammunition, and three bars of chocolate.”  Though Companies “I” and “K” were supposed to coordinate their movements by radio, the latter’s radios failed.  Then, half of Company “K” was separated from the other, as Draper explained:

The 1st and 3rd Platoons in the lead had been moving so fast they obtained the maximum benefit of surprise. But by the time the 2nd and 4th Platoons came up, the element of surprise was finished. They were pounded without letup by German artillery, mortars, machine guns, and small arms.

The two lead platoons from Company “K” along with one from Company “I” reached Lindern and dug in.  Sunrise revealed a precarious situation.  The Germans “surrounded them on all sides,” and the Germans had tanks in the town.  The Germans, unaware at how weak the American position was, did not press their advantage.  That afternoon, the lead platoons of Company “K” got a radio working and contacted the 40th Tank Battalion, which pushed armor through to reach them; infantry reinforcements (including the rest of 3rd Battalion) arrived that evening.  The Germans continued to harass the Americans with constant sniper fire.

The Americans fought off a German counterattack the following morning, November 30, 1944.  The 335th Infantry Regiment’s after action report recorded that on that afternoon

news was received that [3rd Battalion commanding officer] Major [Robert E.] WALLACE was a casualty and that the 3rd Bn was low on food and water and in dire need of medical attention for those wounded by deadly sniper fire. […] Deadly artillery fire was showing an effect on the supply lines but not on the dauntless fighting spirit of the remaining fighting troops.

The Germans launched a stronger counterattack early on the morning of December 1, 1944, supported by tanks and a strong artillery barrage.  German infantry attempted to infiltrate the American positions under cover of darkness, resulting in furious close quarters firefights before the enemy was repulsed.

Among the casualties was Private Hill, reported as killed in action on the last day of the battle, December 1, 1944. 

During his three weeks in combat, Private Hill earned the Bronze Star Medal.  An excerpt from the citation, published in Journal-Every Evening on August 7, 1945, stated:

For three days and two nights, Private Hill, together with five other soldiers, despite intense enemy artillery fire, protected a vulnerable position which afforded an easy and well covered means for enemy infiltration.  During this period three prisoners were taken and one of the enemy wounded when an attempt was made to penetrate the position.

Since the 335th Infantry Regiment had seen only limited action prior to Lindern (which was three days and two nights), it is likely that Hill earned the medal during that battle.  Private Hill’s father accepted his son’s Bronze Star at an August 9, 1945 ceremony, during which Colonel Randolph Russell and Major Arthur E. Flood from Fort DuPont presented posthumous awards to the families of 11 servicemen.

For the collective actions of its men during combat in Lindern, Company “K,” 335th Infantry Regiment was awarded a unit citation. 

Private Hill was buried in a temporary cemetery in Europe.  After the war, his family requested that his body be repatriated to the United States.  Following services at the McCrery Funeral Home in Wilmington on September 18, 1948, Private Hill was buried in nearby Riverview Cemetery.  His parents were also buried there after their deaths.

Private Hill is honored at Veteran’s Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware and on the University of Delaware’s World War II memorial, located at the Newark campus in front of Mitchell Hall. 


Notes

Grade

His father’s statement indicated that Hill was promoted to private 1st class, but his headstone application and the official casualty list gave his grade as private at the time of his death.

Photo Enhancement

The photo at the top of the page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage.  This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (in this case, because it was a detail from a group photo).  I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph.  A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photo can be viewed below.  The full group photos above were not retouched except to boost contrast and sharpening, something often necessary with old photos.

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Jim Sterner for information about and the photo of Private Hill, and to Rick Bell for providing copies of unit after action reports.


Bibliography

“11 State Soldiers to Receive War Medals Posthumously.” Journal-Every Evening, August 7, 1945.  Pg. 1 and 16. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/63455617/beaman-and-frame-posthumous-medals/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/63455871/frame-citation/

“Action Against Enemy, Reports After/After Action Reports 1 Nov – 30 Nov 1944.”  Headquarters 335th Infantry.  National Archives, courtesy of Rick Bell.

Applications for Headstones, compiled 01/01/1925 – 06/30/1970, documenting the period ca. 1776 – 1970.  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774 –1985.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_1521003240_0410-02775

“Burial Rites Arranged For Pvt. Howard W. Hill.”  Journal-Every Evening, September 16, 1948. Pg. 43. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80158730/howard-w-hill-funeral/

Draper, Theodore.  The 84th Infantry Division in the Battle of Germany November 1944–May 1945.  The Viking Press, 1946. https://archive.org/details/84thInfDivBattleOfGermany

“Former U. of D. Student Killed, Another Wounded in Germany.”  Journal-Every Evening, December 20, 1944. Pg. 12. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80159896/howard-hill-kia/

“Hero Medals Given to Kin.” Journal-Every Evening, August 10, 1945.  Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/81753847/posthumous-medals-to-11/

Hill, William J.  Howard Wallace Hill Individual Military Service Record, January 30, 1946.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/19136

“Party for Howard.”  The Evening Journal, September 8. 1926. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80159756/howard-hill-3rd-birthday/

Polk’s Wilmington (New Castle County, Del.) City Directory 1938.  R. L. Polk & Company Publishers, 1938. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2469/images/16150023

“PVT Howard Wallace Hill.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/17261273/howard-wallace-hill

Silverman, Lowell.  “Staff Sergeant Horace C. Brown (1924–1945).” https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2021/06/03/staff-sergeant-horace-c-brown/

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946.  Revised ed.  Stackpole Books, 2006.

Sterner, Jim.  Interview on April 3, 2021, and phone interview on May 31, 2021.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4638925_00437  

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00550-00166    

World War II Army Enlistment Records.  Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=929&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=12100510&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=32000  

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_11_00003-00700


Last updated on July 25, 2021

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