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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Zane Grey Nuckolls

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Zane Grey Nuckolls's Photos

Zane Grey Nuckoll's Story

Zane Grey Nuckolls was born on April 3, 1922, in Furches, NC, to parents Wilburn Edison Nuckolls and Maggie (Hill) Nuckolls.  His father, Edison, was a member of a local band named “The Hen-Pecked Husbands."  Grey’s whole family played music.  His mother Maggie hammered a 5-string banjo, his sister Phyllis played a tenor banjo, his brother Bland played mandolin and Zane played the guitar.  Edison fiddled: “John Henry,” “Old Hen Cackle,” “Home Sweet Home.”

Phyllis, the youngest child, remembers:

"The whole family played music.  We played one time for a contest at Nathan’s Creek School, and my bother Bland … was sitting on the edge of the stage with his mandolin and he just fell asleep and tumbled off. Bang!  But the rest of us kept on playing! The Children, we just chorded, you know, and Dad would give us signals when to change.  He would take his foot and give a little kick, so we always watched him.  We were so tiny!"

Grey remembers:

"When I was a kid back there in the 1920s we used to have corn shuckings and molasses making, and at our home once a month they had candy making, and there’d be music playing and square dancing for family and good friends.  Sometimes Dad would take us around to fiddlers conventions.  In Boone one time we took second prize, which was a sack of flour!

"A corn shucking was a way to get your corn shucked for free.  Sometimes you’d find a row of red kernels in an ear of white corn - - if you did that you could get your choice of any girl and kiss her!  After the corn shucking, they’d clear out a room and have a big dance.  People seemed to really enjoy life in those days, not so much stress like today. You might only make a dollar a day, but you didn’t have to worry about withholding tax, and nobody had any insurance either!"

Grey attended Nathan’s Creek High School, graduating in 1939.  In November 1942 he joined the army and began basic training at Fort Jackson, SC. He later moved to Fort Bragg for supplemental training.  He was assigned to the 100th Infantry Division, and served with the 7th Army, European Theater.  After training, Zane’s division moved to Camp Kilmer, NJ, port of embarkation to leave for the overseas tour.  

Zane recalls:

"Six days out of NY, our convoy was hit by a hurricane. It was the worst storm in seventeen years.  For forty-eight hours we experienced huge mountainous waves.  Our destroyer escorts were doing a 45-degree roll.  One ship came within 5 degrees of capsizing.  Later we hit rough seas in the Mediterranean, this time I became seasick.  We landed at Marseilles, France.  We walked across planks laid over the hulls of partially submerged ships.  We had to walk twelve miles up hill, despite the burden of a full field pack, overcoat, helmet, and rifle.  I was weak, sick, and had not eaten in three days.  We had only had two meals a day for fourteen days coming over.  In the book, “Story of the Century,” this was known as “Death March of Marseilles.”  We moved to Alsace-Lorraine, “The Vosges Mountain Campaign.”  When we drove the Germans from their winter line, they left the area heavily mined and booby-trapped, causing many casualties.  For the first time in history, an army crossed the Vosges Mountains.

"The next objective was Maginot Line Forts at Bitche, France.  Big guns would come out of the ground and fire six or seven rounds and disappear.  The underground fortress had walls from three to ten feet thick.   The fort descends five flights into the earth, and a narrow gauge railroad supplied the fort.  We suffered heavy casualties and for the first time in history the old Fort Citadel de Bitche was captured. It was stormed during the Franco-Prussian war but not captured.  We were the first to break the Maginot Line.  Axis Sally of Berlin called the 100th Infantry Division “Bloody Butchers of Bitche.”

"We went through the German Siegfried line and crossed the Rhein River at Mannheim.  We again suffered heavy casualties crossing the Neckar River at Heilbronn.  We had to cross under a heavy smokescreen.  After V-E Day we moved to Stuttgart as an occupation force.  I was discharged at Ft. Bragg on March 17, 1946."

Grey married Muriel Huffman of Scottville, NC, in 1948 and moved to North Charleston, SC, in 1949.

He began collecting war memorabilia and started the Nuckolls War Museum located in his South Carolina home. 

Zane Grey Nuckolls's Story -- Battle Memories

The 100th Infantry Division was part of General Patch’s 7th Army.  The 397th, 398th, and 399th Infantry Regiments was part of the 100th Infantry Division.  I was in the 398th Infantry Regiment.  The 398th Regiment spearheaded most of the attacks with the 397th covering our left flank and the 399th covering our right flank.  General Patton’s 3rd Army was on our left and the French 1st Army on our right.

General Eisenhower ordered General Patton’s 3rd Army to Bastogne, Belgium to support the 101st Airbourne Division; which was surrounded by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge.

The 7th Army moved over to cover most of the 3rd Army sector.  The front lines were spread thin.  The 7th withdrew to consolidate the front lines.  The 100th Division had entered the Forts of Maginot Line; after a long bitter engagement with heavy casualties, they withdrew to the consolidated lines.  There were two German Panzer Divisions; the 11th and 25th, plus the crack 361st Volks Green Div., setting across the front line.  Large search lights were moved to the front lines to observe any movement of the enemy.

On New Year’s Eve the Germans attacked.  The attached armored unit ran for fifteen miles.  The 44th Infantry Division on our left withdrew out of artillery range and the 117th Calvary Recon withdrew on our right, leaving our left and right flank exposed.  The 100th Infantry Division was almost surrounded by the Germans.  Two 397th machine gunners stayed up front for a time before falling back.  Large hordes of Germans, screaming and shouting obscenities, came across the front lines.  Private Outlaw, of M Company said, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”  He killed over 100 Krauts with his machine gun and Sergeant Steiman, of K Company, also killed over 100 Germans before falling back.

With the use of bazooka teams, grenade launchers, fitted on rifles, and field artillery they were able to stop the German tanks.

This was the last large scale offensive of the enemy during WWII.  Adolf Hitler, in a bunker several miles away, directed the offensive.  Code name of the offensive was Nordwind (Northwind).

The 398th Infantry was the first to receive the Combat Infantry Badge.  We received $10 more in our pay each month for the added risk involved.

Two men from the 398th Infantry received the Medal of Honor.  Lieutenant Silk was one of these.  There was a French farm house full of Germans.  Lieutenant Silk left his men in protection of a wooded area and ran to the farm house under machine gun fire.  He lobbed a grenade at a machine gun nest in a wood shed.  And he tossed a grenade in the window where a machine gun was being fired.  He ran around the house firing in the window. The Germans thought they were surrounded.  Lieutenant Silk ran out of ammunition and ran around the building hurling rocks through the windows.  He kicked the front door open and captured a house full of Germans with an empty gun.

The other Medal of Honor was given to Private 1st Class Mike Colalillo, he was nineteen years of age.  Company C was pinned down from machine guns, mortars, and artillery fire.  Colalillo rode a tank into battle, firing at the enemy.  A shell fragment hit his gun and rendered it useless.  He grabbed the machine gun; mounted the tank, and began firing.  His one-man attack knocked out several machine gun nests.  The tank ran out of ammunition and withdrew.  Colallillo advanced on foot and the rest of Company C followed him into battle.  He dashed to the side of a wounded man and helped him back to safety of company holes.  At all times Colalillo was under intense artillery, machine guns, and mortar fire.  The enemy withdrew.

Later General Burress received a letter from German General Von Mellenthis, commending the 100th Infantry Division on halting the drive of the 11th and 25th Panzer Division.  He also stated the U.S. 100th Infantry Division, which was known to us from the Vosges Campaign, as being a crack assault division with daring and flexible leadership.

After Victory in Europe Day, the 100th Infantry Division was scheduled to leave for the Pacific Theater of Operations and be part of the assault against mainland Japan.  Dropping the atomic bomb may have saved many lives of the 100th Infantry Division men.

-- Written by Zane G. Nuckolls

Zane Grey Nuckolls's Story -- My Longest Day

My Longest Day

By Zane G. Nuckolls

Early one morning in Alsace-Lorraine, France, in November 1944, I was taking some men to the medics in a jeep.  The road was narrow and above a creek bank.  Several roads in France were like this.  On the way back there were a row of Army trucks lined bumper to bumper on the left side.  On my side the road was clear.  After going a short distance, a jeep and trailer pulled out of the convoy and came straight toward me.  It did not slow down.  We were headed for a head-on collision.  I had the right of way, and thought this driver is crazy!  Men in both jeeps would be killed or injured.  I pulled off the edge of the road and scraped a pole, then turned upside down in the creek.  An angle welded on the front bumper may have saved our lives.  It kept the motor up where we could crawl from the jeep.  Several of the jeeps had angle iron welded on the front bumper to protect them from wires.  The Germans strung wires across roads about neck high to snap the neck of the driver.

When we got back to the company, Commander Captain Clifford G. Day was ready for us to go across the Vosges Mountains to get a choice site for his company and so we would be ahead of the other companies.  We had to go through two or three French towns to get to the mountains.  The first town was Senone.  Each town had Germans to be rounded up before we went through. As we stopped on the edge of town, French civilians came and gave us a hero’s welcome.  They were carrying a flag that had been buried during the German occupation.

In the last town we went through before Vosges, a German soldier put out a white flag to surrender.  When a GI got to him the German shot the American.  When another American soldier got to the German he executed him on the spot.

In the first town we came to, after we crossed Vosges Mountains, Captain Day found an ideal site to move our company.  We left four men to hold the buildings and continued on.  When we got back to the company, Captain Day had orders to pull back.  I was told he would not be able to go back for the men.  It was now left up to me to either go back and get them or just leave.  I decided to go back and get the men.  By now it was getting dark, and it would take a miracle to find the men in total darkness.  We weren’t allowed to turn on headlights, since they would attract the enemy’s attention.  We had to make many turns through several towns.  I asked the Lord to guide me.  When I got on top of the Vosges Mountain I was stopped by military police, telling me not to go any further.  The blackout lights revealed a row of tanks coming up the mountain.  I had to see General Miller at the portable command post for permission to rescue four soldiers.  He gave me the go ahead, but cautioned me to be careful. I located the men okay and we started back up the mountain.  There was not a vehicle or person in sight.  Everything seemed quiet ... too quiet.  Suddenly nineteen Germans appeared out of the woods directly in front of my jeep.  One man in our party, Sergeant Beyerack, was German-American.  He had left Germany in 1926 and could translate for the Germans.  They told Sergeant Beyerback that they wanted to surrender.  I was afraid this was another trick to catch us off guard.  I felt that we would be killed in a very short time.  The thought that went through my mind was that my life was not worth two cents.  We now had nineteen Germans and one jeep.  We would need a truck to get back to our company.  Out of nowhere a truck came by from the 45th Infantry Division and captured the nineteen Germans.  We received an emblem for our part in liberating those towns.