Veteran Profile: Howard Griffin
Crestwood, Ky.’s Griffin served in Gen. Patton’s 3rd Armored Div.
Despite being injured, he continued to serve in battle
CRESTWOOD, Ky. (October 2015) – As a young boy at age 16, Howard Griffin volunteered for service in 1943. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed and he felt, like many did, that it was his duty to enlist in the U.S. Army to defend the country from further threats.
This is the third part in our series of World War II Veterans Stories that began in August.
Originally from Vernon, Ala., Griffin had planned to join the U.S. Air Force. Being half color-blind, the Air Force wouldn’t take him. Determined to fight for the United States, he applied to go into the Army the same day.
The idea of boot camp didn’t daunt Griffin; he was in very good shape from his childhood as a farm boy and having played football in high school. With a single mule, he plowed cotton and corn nearly every day.
Boot camp was replaced with survival training in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. From the latter station, he was sent to North Africa by boat in 1943. Griffin was assigned to Gen George S. Patton’s 3rd Armored Division.
Griffin was a scout during the war years. Once his superiors found out “I could shoot and was in good physical shape,” his destiny was decided for him. Growing up like so many others during the Depression era, Griffin didn’t have much, “but I had a rifle. I’m still good with it.”
Photo by Helen McKinney
Senior Master Sgt. Howard E. Griffin of Crestwood, Ky., retired from the U.S. Army with 22 medals.
After several months, he was sent to Marseille, France. He was injured while stationed in Naples, Italy, when an artillery shell exploded in the vehicle in which he was riding.
Griffin, 88, didn’t even realize he had been hit in the head. “I put my hand up there, and three fingers could touch the top of my skull.” He was taken to the field hospital, where he stayed for only three days before going back to the field, “because they didn’t have enough room for me.”
He then spent time in Germany, in Luxemburg then Belgium. While in Belgium, Griffin came face to face with Patton. It was a brief meeting, but Patton shook his hand and told him, “You did a great job for us in North Africa.”
Griffin said the worst part of Belgium was the extremely cold weather. “It snowed every day, and you couldn’t have a fire,” he said. He ate mostly C-rations in the field and said he “lived on chocolate bars.”
Hersey was very important to the Army food chain and made a chocolate bar that was about half-inch thick and about six inches long, Griffin said. “If you had one of them to eat every two days, you could survive a long time.” Most of the time his water came from the snow that surrounded him and his comrades in abundance.
Griffin estimates the Army lost more than 30,000 soldiers in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. “It was terrible,” he said. At the time, Griffin was close to Bastogne, which he described as “a pretty rough area.”
It was Christmas in the middle of the battle, Griffin said. He had volunteered for what he described as a “big assignment. I spent two Christmases away from home, and I was still not 19 years old.”
After three weeks of cloudy, miserable skies, the weather cleared to reveal thousands of supply planes, followed by bombers targeting the Germans. Finally, the American soldiers had supplies.
Shortly after this, Griffin was sent to Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. After receiving his orders to leave, he and many other soldiers thought they would be heading home. Once the boat sailed to the Panama Canal, Griffin knew they weren’t heading for home. Instead, they were sent to Kyushu, Japan. Six weeks later, the war ended in Japan.
After the war, Griffin met his future wife, Lillian Buickerood, at a service club in New York in 1946. They married on Sept. 11, 1948, in New York and settled in Alabama, where he opened his own business, a body shop to rebuild wrecked cars. He and his wife had one daughter and two sons.
Griffin was called back into the Army in 1950 during the Korean War. “I decided to stay,” he said, because this put an end to his body shop business and all the time and money he had invested in it.
After Korea, he was sent to Japan as an adviser to the Japanese army. He also spent 13 months in Iran as an army adviser and was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division in Dong Tam, Mekong Delta, during Vietnam. Returning to Fort Knox, he retired in 1970 as a Senior Master Sergeant after 25 years.
Griffin’s World War II memories are preserved at the Oldham County History Center as part of the Veterans Oral History Project. “It is interesting to have the veteran’s perspective about their involvement with a war and the context of the particular time frame, which I don’t think you can get without a personal interview,” said Nancy Stearns Theiss, executive director of the History Center.
In 2014, the History Center had on display a World War II exhibit “because we had done so many interviews with World War II veterans and, in addition, many of them decided to donate their things to the History Center, so it became an obvious choice to display items, oral histories and articles while these veterans are still alive,” said Theiss.
She said veterans should be paid “a simple show of respect, gratitude and appreciation for their service at a very critical time in world history. I believe that the oral histories that we do at the History Center will be an important resource for future generations so those in the future will not forget the service of those in the past.”
Out of 82 medals for all of the wars that can be earned, Griffin has 22 of them. Among his honors are two Purple Hearts and the Legion of Merit Medal, the sixth highest medal a soldier can earn.
At the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, “kids like me were volunteering like mad. At the time the United States got involved in war, everybody worked for the war effort. People at home worked. They were just as important.”
Of his military career Griffin said, “The Army was good to me. It did what it said it would do. I’m not sorry for any of it.”
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