Born on July 6, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, John W. Garrett was in a fraternity studying Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Illinois when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Knowing they were at war, John decided to enlist in the spring of 1942. As an engineer by education, John was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. After basic training, Garrett was assigned to the 14th Armored Division at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. In October of 1944, John and his unit were sent to southern France, where they moved up the Rhine Valley into the Vosges Mountains.
On New Year’s Eve night in 1944, John recounts defending against the last major German counter-offensive of the war, Operation Nordwind.
“On New Year’s Eve night, we had the first attack by the 6th SS Mountain Division against us. And we were the first unit they caught. We had listening posts at night…we could hear movement. And we knew we were going to get it, sooner or later. What we did, we took equipment they had…concertina coil and criss-crossed all the deer trails and mountain roads to slow them up, because we knew they were coming. We didn’t have any grenades or that, we were short on ammunition and everything, and we were half-way rationed and stuff. So what we did, we got into this depot at Barenthal and we would make our own pull-type devices. We’d take a quarter-pound block of TNT and wrap a whole bunch of nails around them with tape. And then put a pull-type device to set them off. We had those all through the area where we knew the attack was coming. We knew there was only one route they had to come and that was right at us, so we had everything set up for them. So we had the attack.”
Garrett and his comrades saw almost continuous action towards the end of the war. The strongest attack of Operation Nordwind was halted by the 14th Armored Division in the fierce defensive Battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen, which raged from January 9th to the 21st in 1945. John safely returned home in September of 1946 and worked as a steel salesman and contractor for many years until retiring in 1980 in Delavan, Wisconsin.
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