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Charles W. Hendrix (1919 -     )

Grandfather to my son. Born on August 13, 1919 in Danville, Illinois. Graduated from the University of Illinois in 1941. Entered the service in June 1941 as a 2nd lieutenant, having completed the ROTC program while in college. Promoted to 1st lieutenant on May 1, 1942 and captain on October 5, 1942. He took command of E Troop on September 10, 1943.

Captain, Commanding E Troop, 25th Cavalry Recon Squadron, 4th Armored Division, George Patton’s fabled Third Army. 4th Armored Division spearheaded Third Army and 25th Cav was out ahead of 4th Armored Division. The distinction as to the front line was often vague. Units of the 25th Cav often found themselves separated from the main column by elements of the German Army. Officers found themselves constantly in situations requiring initiative.

E Troop was comprised of 123 men plus five officers – four platoon leaders plus Captain Hendrix. “Our eight assault guns had the old pack 75mm gun on a light tank chassis with an open turret. It also had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the turret. Every halftrack had a .50 caliber too. Each platoon, in addition to the two assault guns, had a halftrack command vehicle and a halftrack ammunition carrier and I had a halftrack. The maintenance section had a maintenance halftrack and a light tank.”

4th Armored advanced in two columns – Combat Command A (CCA) and Combat Command B (CCB). Each consisted of a tank battalion and an armored infantry battalion. Combat Command Reserve (CCR) supported whichever was engaged in a firefight. A recon troop from 25th Cav led CCA and CCB. An assault gun platoon followed the recon troop with each of the two combat commands. The other two platoons of assault guns covered the most vulnerable flank.

His Bronze Star citation reads:
A Cavalry officer, skilled in the employment of artillery, Captain Hendrix as commander of the Squadron’s assault gun troop, has largely been responsible for the close, accurate and effective artillery support provided the reconnaissance troops. On occasion, the Captain has commanded all the assault guns of the Division in battery. In other circumstances his own troops have been widely dispersed, therefore making control and coordination among his elements extremely difficult. Regardless of the difficulty of the situation, Captain Hendrix has proved himself a cool, competent, enthusiastic officer whose desire to destroy the enemy in support of the line troops has inculcated to his men an “esprit de corps” and a spirit of combat aggressiveness that is unsurpassable. No officer has served the Squadron more willingly and unselfishly nor more meritoriously than Captain Hendrix of E Troop.

“The recon troop had armored cars and jeeps. They had limited firepower. The emphasis was on speed. If they encountered minor resistance, we’d move up and take care of it. If we were hit hard, we’d fix the enemy position, try to pin them down, and a tank battalion would go around them and hit them on their flank.”

Captain Hendrix earned the Purple Heart for wounds received in action at Redon in the French province of Brittany on August 4, 1944.

The Battle of Arracourt during the Lorraine campaign in September 1944 was one of the larger tank battles of the Western Front. The struggle lasted eleven days. The Panzer Army had numerical advantage in infantryman and tanks, as well as tanks with thicker armor and more powerful guns. The Americans prevailed through superior tactics.

George Patton operated on the basis of mission-oriented orders. Subordinate officers were given wide latitude as to how to accomplish their missions. Initiative was encouraged. It was for action on the final day of Arracourt that Captain Hendrix was awarded the Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy”. His Silver Star citation reads:

At about 1400, 29 September 1944, a task force commanded by Capt. Charles W. Hendrix, commanding officer E Troop, 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, successfully attacked an enemy “dug-in” position on Hill 320, Benamon Hills. The enemy force, estimated as one infantry company supported by three Mark IV tanks, had successfully attacked positions held by elements of 51st Infantry and 24th Engineers during the night 28-29 September and forced the infantry and engineers to withdraw about 2500 yards. By daylight 29 September the enemy had established a strong “dug-in” position on Hill 320. Capt. Hendrix was given command of a task force composed of a task force composed of one tank platoon, one assault gun platoon and one reconnaissance platoon with the mission of destroying the enemy, occupying Hill 320, reconnoitering Benamon Hills for a distance of 1000 yards west of Hill 320 and establishing an outpost on Hill 320. The skillful employment of tanks and assault guns, followed up by a dismounted force and the careful coordination of supporting tank destroyers and assault guns, forced the enemy to route from their position with about twenty-five killed, ten captured, three Mark IV tanks abandoned. The remainder of the enemy force, hopelessly disorganized, fled from the position. The attack by the task force, the reconnaissance of Benamon Woods, the establishment of the outpost was bold and deliberate, and was completed without loss of personnel or equipment. The ferocity and success of the mission was inspired by the skillful, fearless leadership of the commander, Capt. Hendrix.

[Note by Colonel Charles W. Hendrix, USA, Retired, to his citation:
There is reference to our indirect fire capability, but at least 75% of all our action was of the direct fire variety. Also I should emphasize that awards are given to the person in charge when the troopers and not the guy with the Captain’s bars do what is done].

A good officer accepts more than his share of the blame for a setback and less than his share of the glory for a victory. Chuck Hendrix epitomized the citizen soldier, who rose to the occasion to serve his country in its time of need.

The action at Benamon Woods involved bitter fighting as each side struggled to control the key ground. CCB gained and then lost Hill 318, as fighting continued into the night of September 28. Elements of CCB dug in on the reverse slope near the crest. The Germans took Hill 293 to the southwest and reached the eastern edge of Bois du Benamont. Hugh Cole in his classic book The Lorraine Campaign (pp. 240-241) wrote:

When darkness came the Germans again sent a shock force, this time supported by a few tanks, up the forward slope of Hill 318. This assault force drove the Americans back over the crest and onto the reverse slope, where they were caught by a well-executed barrage laid down by German guns. Just before midnight the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion regained the crest after a preparatory shelling by four battalions of artillery had broken the German hold. The enemy retaliated promptly. CCB was hit by heavy-caliber artillery fire, which continued for nearly one hour – causing thirty-five casualties in one company alone. Under cover of this fire the 11th Panzer Division extended its hold on the camelback, took Hill 293 and drove on to seize the high ground at the eastern edge of the Bois du Benamont. However, the infantry from the 51st, crouched in foxholes close to the crest of Hill 318, refused to give ground.

The German attack had made important gains during the night of 28-29 September, but the 4th Armored Division had added to its estimable record as an assault force and had proved to be equally tough and stubborn on the defensive … The morning of 29 September broke with a thick fog obscuring the battlefield. The exhausted German infantry tried to push on toward Arracourt but made no headway. Meanwhile, a platoon of medium tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion moved up Hill 318 in the fog and when the haze finally lifted the tank commander directed the American planes onto the German tanks which had assembled under the screening fog in the valley below … By the middle of the afternoon the Germans were streaming back through Fourasse Farm … Remnants of the 2nd Battalion of the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and a few tanks from the Reconnaissance Battalion, 11th Panzer Division held bravely to their positions in Bois du Benamont, all the while under heavy fire from American tank destroyers and cavalry assault guns.

In December, when the German Ardennes offensive resulted in a fifty mile “Bulge” in the American line, 4th Armored rushed up from the south to break the German stranglehold on Bastogne. The 25th Cav was holding the line on the road to Bastogne when “Old Abe” (Creighton Abrams and his 37th Tank Battalion) went through them and raced into Bastogne. His most intense memory of the Bulge was one often repeated by veterans of that colossal winter battle. “I remember being so cold and miserable and so depressed from people shooting at you all that time and I was laying in a wet sleeping bag in the snow and I just prayed for a tank to roll over me and end my misery.” He also recalled, “After the Bulge, we had heavy casualties.” He never elaborated any more than that as to the loss of American lives under his command.

In a note to his children, written at their request, he noted:
Sometime someone might ask you what your old man did during the war and you can tell him he did what was expected of him.

Charles Wade Hendrix retired from the United States Army reserve in 1971 with the rank of colonel. He practiced law for many years in Champaign, Illinois. In retirement, among his favorite activities was fishing with his grandson. He was not one to talk much about the war. It took many years to extract his recollections.