HED: He’d fight again

CATEGORY: Prentiss County

AUTHOR: SUMMER

HED: He’d fight again

By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BOONEVILLE -The Fourth of July holds special meaning for World War II veteran Jim Cannon of Cairo.

Cannon, 79, saw more than his share of combat in the war that was to end all wars. He served as a member of the U.S. Army’s 334th Infantry, Company K, of the 84th Lincoln “Railsplitter’s” Division.

And though the average life of a combat soldier was 74 hours, Cannon survived several months of intense combat against the Germans during the Battle of Ardennes, better known as the Battle of the Bulge.

“I am proud to be an American and an American soldier and I would fight for it again,” he said. “I just hope our politicians don’t tear our form of government up before our great-grandchildren get to see it.”

The Battle of the Bulge

The last major German offensive of the war lasted from December 1944 to January 1945. Following the Normandy invasion in June 1944, Allied forces swept through France but stalled along the German border in September.

On Dec. 16, 1944, taking advantage of weather that kept Allied aircraft on the ground, the Germans launched a counteroffensive through the hilly and wooded Ardennes country and advanced 31 miles into Belgium and Luxembourg.

Their aim was to divide the Americans and the British and retake the vital seaport of Antwerp. They created a bulge in the Allied lines, but their advance was halted near the Meuse in late December.

Managing to avoid being cut off by an Allied pincer movement, the Germans withdrew to their own lines in January, but heavy losses, including some 220,000 casualties, contributed to their final collapse the following spring. At the end of the Ardennes offensive, 12,000 Germans including four generals were taken prisoner.

Cannon’s personal march began in October about 30 miles inside the French border and covered about 300 miles before the American army met up with the Allied Russian troops at the Elbe River at Seehausen, Germany.

Family casualty

On Dec. 8, 1944, Cannon’s younger brother Jack, who was in the 335th Infantry, was killed in action. Jack Cannon, 20, was about a mile-and-a-half behind his brother near the Siegfried Line at Geilenkirchen, Beck, Wurm and Lindern.

Jim Cannon was wounded in the hand but was back on the front lines within 24 hours.

Raised on a farm in Henry County, Tenn., Cannon was accustomed to hard work. As a child, he learned to speak German from neighbor kids. Because of that, he was pulled from regular duty at times to work for the Office of Strategic Service, the OSS, which today is the CIA.

“When I gathered information on the radio, my code name was Cowhide Blue and people I talked to had to be Cowhide White,” Cannon said.

The Germans called Cannon’s 84th Division “the Hatchetmen” because they were considered so ruthless, Cannon said.

“We were just a wild bunch and it took awhile for us to get back into the regular army after the war was over,” he said.

Because of his OSS work, the Army believed that Cannon was on a Gestapo hit list.

“They called me ‘Roosevelt’s Hatchet Man,’” he said.

Cannon has full recall of the details, dates, places and names of fellow combat soldiers involved in the historical Battle of the Bulge.

And he remembers fondly the Independence Day celebration after the war in Europe ended on May 9, 1945.

“I was at Ebberboch, Germany, a town of 6,000 in southern Germany where we were fixing to take jungle training for fighting in Japan but Truman decided to use the A-bomb,” he said. “We had free wine and a USO band.”

The beverage had been looted from wine cellars in town by Cannon’s platoon, known as Ali Babba and the 40 Thieves.

“I was Ali Babba,” he said. “Everybody said if you don’t have it, Sgt. Cannon and his platoon can find it.”

The months leading up to the Allied victory in Europe were quite different. While the Germans tried to break through the middle of the American lines, the GIs advanced across Germany, taking two to three small towns a day along with larger towns along the way.

Neighbor discovered

At Hanover, one of the larger towns, Cannon went in to a prisoner of war camp. When he opened the gates to look around, “I found Paul Perry, a neighbor boy that I had grown up with.”

The Americans liberated the POWs and took German prisoners.

At Verdennes, Cannon’s platoon captured 60 Germans and freed three American POWs discovered in a basement. The Germans were wearing American uniforms, he said.

On another occasion, he was among a small group of soldiers, who captured a German-held town in Belgium and organized a successful defense in the face of enemy tank attack. He received a certificate of merit signed by Brig. Gen. A.R. Bolling for display of courage and aggressiveness.

Cannon also received a Russian Certificate of Merit for Combat for having shown gallantry and bravery in combat service against the Germans.

Other decorations include the Combat Infantry Badge, which he said “gave me the right to shoot Germans on sight,” the Purple Heart, Good Conduct, Major Campaign Ribbon with three Battle Stars, Presidential Unit Citation and Presidential Personal Citation.

Cannon’s platoon was chosen as personal guard to President Harry Truman when he came to review the troops after taking office following Roosevelt’s death. His K Company served as honor guard for the President.

Back to civilian life

It took about 15 years after the war for painful memories of the killing to begin abating, Cannon said.

He went back to work on the L&N Railroad, completing 12 years with the company before becoming an iron worker with Southern Fabricators in Memphis. He retired 17 years ago.

He and his wife of 60 years, Cornelia Scott Cannon, have three children, Gloria Canon Dickey and Jimmy Cannon, both of Memphis and Peggy Prince of Cairo. They have six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.