Grover Belmont Proctor was born on January 7, 1918 in Upper Town Creek Township (near Rocky Mount) in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. He married Edna Ruth Hooks of Apex, N.C., on July 11, 1943, and, at the time of his entry into the Army, he gave as his address P.O. Box 111, Apex, N.C. He was an employee of the railroad, and the Army listed his civilian occupation and reference number as "Clerk, General (1-05-010)" with the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. The report from his Army induction physical examination gives some description of him at this time. He is listed as a "white, married, U.S. citizen," with one dependent, 5'5" tall, 115 pounds, with gray eyes and black hair. It lists his complexion as "ruddy," his eyesight as 20/20 in both eyes, and he is described as having a "light frame" and "fair posture."
Proctor left the States on December 12, 1944, and arrived in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) on December 20, where he would participate in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and Rhineland (Siegfried Line) campaigns. It is unclear exactly where he disembarked, but he joined with the 87th Division in northern France at about the time they were being relieved from the Saar Valley offensive. They had sustained very heavy casualties during that incursion, and in the last ten days of December they were brought back close to full operational strength. Williams (1958) noted that between December 20 and 26, the 87th Division was attached to the Seventh Army area, XV Corps "while reliefs were in progress" (p. 363) and while a large number of replacement troops were assigned to them.
The plight of these replacements (such as Proctor) has been much commented on. Sydney Kessler, of the 347th Regiment, wrote later about his perceptions of them: "I shipped out in a unit and not as a replacement. As a replacement, it was said, your chances of survival were greatly reduced. I didn't believe this until I was in the hairy horror of full combat myself. I found myself doing what almost everyone else did. Any replacement that came into the platoon was, more or less, shunned. I just could not bear to get to know one more soldier who might get killed. I tried not to ask their names. I could not even bring myself to ask what state they came from. If they were killed, well, they were just another stranger out there" (Strang, 1999).
By contrast, James Bain, who served with Proctor in F Company of the 345th, noted that those who joined at the time Proctor did were joining a Company that had already been cemented by harsh battle conditions. "The 'original' survivors had become extremely close by that time and were 'veterans.' That explains the reluctance to quickly accept replacements as buddies!" He was equally adamant, however, that "after we attacked the southern shoulder of the Bulge (Dec. 29)" each replacement had, himself, "gone through hell and had been accepted by the men" of the squad. "He had friends!" (Bain, 1999)
Though it is unclear exactly when Proctor became attached to the 87th, it seems likely that he was assigned to the Division between December 20 and 24, as a handwritten list of the personnel of the 2nd Rifle Platoon (including Proctor's name) made by Lt. William T. Prather has survived (Prather, 1999). Lt. Prather made the list in Dieuze, France, and Regimental records show the 345th leaving the Saar Valley, moving through Dieuze on December 24. Proctor was assigned to the 2nd Platoon of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 345th Regiment, of the 87th Division, and though it is naturally the exploits and hardships and valor of these groups which will be recounted here, that is in no way to diminish the heroic efforts of all men and women who assisted in the Allied effort.
In route to their new bivouac, the 345th's history poignantly notes that the Second Battalion participated in a Midnight Christmas service in the village church of the small French town of Cutting (345th Regiment, ca.1946). By December 26 they took up a reserve position in the fields between Epoye and Biane near the cathedral city of Reims, and the Unit's Historian, 2nd Lt. Gilbert Procter, Jr. (he is no relation, but his contemporaneous history will be cited several times in this narrative) noted that "for the next three days the men had a comparatively restful time. Reims was only about 15 kilometers to the west. The men were trucked in and given showers and clean underwear and socks" (Procter, 11 January 1945, p.6). It would be the last peaceful time for Proctor before being cast into the crimson cauldron of war, until he met his bullet in Germany.
Ardennes (The Battle of the Bulge). On December 28, orders came through attaching the 87th Division to General Patton's Third Army, which was preparing to mount a counteroffensive to resist and repel the German incursion into eastern Belgium (the famous "bulge"). By December 29, the entire 345th Regiment was on the march northeast towards and into Belgium. Proctor's F Company bivouacked in the Luchy Forest at Ochamps just south of the town of Seviscourt until late on December 30, when they moved to the outskirts of Rondu to be ready for an early morning attack on the 31st, but as it turned out, the enemy had pulled back from the town. F Company led an attack to keep the Germans in retreat, but as they approached Remange, they were hit by heavy mortar fire, so they veered west of the city "only to have artillery drop in the woods to their front" (345th Regiment, ca.1946). By 1700 (5:00 p.m.), however, they had "moved through Remange, cleared it of snipers and took the high ground to the north", in the vicinity of Chapelle de Lorette (87th Division, p. 69). "Enemy tanks and infantry coming out of the Bois la Chenaie Woods continued to attack their positions on the hill" until late evening, when a burst of artillery forced the Germans to retreat into the woods (345th Regiment, ca.1946, p.17).
By January 11 word began to filter in that the German "bulge" was collapsing, and patrols sent out by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions on the 12th confirmed the Nazi retreat. In an effort to press the enemy back toward its border, on January 13 the 2nd Battalion led the 345th Regiment's advance out of Tillet -- clearing landmines as they went -- northeast to Chisogne, north to Menil, through Fosset and Orreuy, on to Sprimont, and by the 14th they occupied Roumont.
It was on January 15 that orders came for the 345th Regiment to move south into Luxembourg to relieve the 4th Division. Record-breaking bad winter weather that had begun as early as Christmas now began to take a serious toll on the troops. Snow and ice covered the roads, and the temperatures dropped to consistently below freezing. The 345th took up positions along the Sauer River (Proctor and the 2nd Battalion were in regimental reserve at Consdorf), near the deserted town of Echternach, the place General Patton had called "the shoulder of the bulge" (87th Division, p. 74).
The 345th's mission was entirely defensive in Luxenbourg, holding a front 10,500 yards long, but this did not keep it immune from periodic enemy artillery and mortar shelling. The weather continued to be miserable, with sleet, snow and below freezing temperatures the norm. "On the 19th the Division put out a pass policy which permitted men and officers passes to Paris and Luxembourg. Quite a few men were able to take advantage of this. It meant a lot to the men -- a hot shower and a chance to relax and do a little sight-seeing. The city of Luxembourg was in good condition. It had received very little bombing and shelling" (Procter, 6 February 1945, p.8). There is no record as to whether Proctor was among those able to use these passes, and by the 24th, all such passes were cancelled when the orders to advance from Luxembourg came down.
On January 24th, the 345th Regiment was again on the move, back up into eastern Belgium, near the German border, in small towns east of Limberle. In the evening of the 27th, they received orders to move to St. Vith to relieve the 7th Armored Division which had just taken the city. It took two days of fierce fighting against persistent artillery and small arms fire, but on the 29th, Proctor's F Company, along with I Company of the 3rd Battalion, were the first to advance into St. Vith. The next day the 2nd Battalion moved up and seized Rodgen, east of Schlierbach. F Company took control of Setz for the next 24 hours, after which they fought through waist deep snow to take Schonberg, "moving across country through three feet of snow in the middle of the night [which] made it pretty rough going" (Procter, 8 March 1945, p.1). The weather and living conditions in the Ardennes Forest continued to deteriorate all during this time, with reports noting "blinding snowstorms, freezing temperatures, combined with treacherous terrain. Dense woods added to the blackness of normal darkness, reducing visibility to a matter of two or three yards" (87th Division, p. 78).
Nevertheless, Proctor and his F Company continued to push forward towards the German border. Camped in Schonberg and Amelscheid on February 1, they were within 1 kilometer of the border, and the next day the 2nd Battalion crossed over and advanced to Verschneid, where they rested. For these three days, "the men had a good rest and an opportunity to get cleaned up and dried out.... Capt. Ebbers, military government officer for the regiment, gave an orientation on handling German civilians, stressing the idea that our outfit is now on enemy soil and there is to be no fraternization with civilians" (Procter, 8 March 1945, p.1). On the 4th came orders for the 2nd Battalion to advance to Auw, at which point they took positions that were within 2000 yards of the massive, legendary, as-yet-intact Siegfried Line.
Rheinland (The Siegfried Line). On February 6, 1945 (his wife's 20th birthday), Proctor's F Company broke through the "massive, impregnable" Siegfried Line.
Olzheim. After breaching the Line on February 6, the 2nd Battalion pushed forward and took the town of Jadghs and set up position there, about 2.5 kilometers from their next objective, the town of Olzheim, described as "a small town astride a main German supply route serving Prum" (87th Division, p.82). Sergeant H. M. Trowern, of G Company, remembers an even more important strategic reason for taking the town of Olzheim: It was "the hub of the Siegfried Line communications system. Patton wanted Olzheim because he wanted to take out the communications and break the Siegfried Line up. He wanted the village desperately" (Trowern, 2000, p. 29).
Town of Olzheim, pre-war
By February 8, Proctor's F Company had advanced to within 2000 yards northwest of Olzheim, and the original plans called for them to wait until the 3rd Battalion could come around the town, gain the high ground, and provide cover for F Company to advance. The 3rd Battalion met fierce resistance as they attempted their maneuver, and they were therefore delayed in reaching their destination. Even though the ground leading into Olzheim provided very little cover, exposing F Company to open enemy artillery fire, at 1430 hours (2:30 p.m.) the Regimental Commander ordered them to attack and take the town before dark.
F Company, lacking the protection of the still missing 3rd Battalion, was stopped by sniper fire just 800 yards short of the city, and by 1530 hours (3:30 p.m.) they came under an intense artillery barrage. Proctor's squad leader in the 2nd Platoon in F Company, Staff Sergeant Edward F. Allison, immediately recognized the heavy casualties that were being inflicted by the shelling, and led the squad "against the enemy position which had his company immobilized. He directed the squad in laying heavy fire on the emplacement until he had maneuvered into a position from which he could rush the enemy. [Sgt. Allison] then single handedly charged the position, taking the gun crew prisoners" (345th Regiment, ca.1946, p.50). (Sgt. Allison would later be awarded the Silver Star for his heroism.) With the mortar fire having been eliminated, F Company was able to move into Olzheim, where they instituted a mop-up operation and took 60 prisoners of the remaining German soldiers.
Contemporary accounts from soldiers in the European battlefields tell us much about the mindset of battle -- being caught in the hail of bullets or the thunder of artillery; the sights, smells, and sounds of destruction wrapping around you like a blanket; having to raise your gun, point it at another human being, and quickly fire before he had the time to harm you; watching men you knew and many you didn't fall in action, beyond your reach and beyond your power to rescue; and of course the fear of being shot and dying (or perhaps being shot and not dying) which was never far from any man in those conditions. Scenes from William Fee's powerful diary paint an honest and arresting picture of battle conditions:
On that day in Olzheim, only a few days and a few kilometers from where Fee witnessed the above incident, Proctor's fate became the same as that of the lone unknown soldier.
Somewhere near Olzheim, Proctor was wounded in the upper left arm while "on the march." As the surviving records do not say, it is possible he was wounded during the initial advance on the city, or perhaps during Sgt. Allison's heroic efforts to take out the enemy artillery. The various medical records and reports created during the next 2 months disagreed as to when and how his wound was sustained. The first report which has survived (dated March 20) listed the time as 0155 hours (1:55 a.m.) on February 9; later, in a stateside hospital, it was listed as 1530 hours (3:30 p.m.) on February 8 (the exact time his Company was pinned down by sniper and artillery fire). Proctor would later tell his wife that he had taken the point of the march (that is, he was in the lead), and that he was hit as he came up over a ridge.
He fell, and lay in the snow for 9 hours before being found and rescued. He was later told that, had he not fallen in snow, which stanched the bleeding, he would have died long before he was found. [It might be noted here that the discrepancy between the two times given above is 10½ hours, which is almost exactly the length of time said to have elapsed between the time of his wounding and the time of his being rescued. While it is possible that the actual wounding happened at 3:30 p.m. on the 8th and at 1:55 a.m. he was rescued, it is hard to imagine recovery operations like that taking place in the dead of night. Perhaps he was wounded at 1:55 a.m. on the 9th and rescued 9 hours later, approximately 11:00 a.m. However, this means that they would have been "on the march" and under enemy fire in the middle of the night, and this too is improbable.]
Recovery. According to F Company's Morning Report for February 10, 1945, he was shipped on February 9 to the 437th Medical Battalion as a result of being "lightly wounded in action" by a "gunshot wound" to the "left humerus." Reports made the next month in a stateside hospital identified the location as the 101st Evac Hospital in Luxembourg, and the time of his departure from Olzheim as 1930 hours (5:30 p.m.) on the 9th.
Decorations and Discharge. According to the Chief of the Army Medals Section at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, the decorations and citations Proctor was awarded include the following:
Some Personal Notes from His Son:
My father finished his time in the military at the rank of Pfc (Private first class), but family stories say that he was in line to move up, jumping past corporal, to buck sergeant when he was wounded. It's why he was "in the point," leading the troop movement. (Because of when he was drafted, he was about 6 to 8 years older than almost all of his fellow Pfc's, who were mere boys of 18 and 19 years old. So I suppose it was natural that he would move into a leadership role, once he had fought side by side with them, his status as a "replacement" had been overcome, and he had been accepted into the fellowship of his platoon.)
Grover B. Proctor, Sr.
whose diligence, selflessness, quiet strength, and gentleness of spirit
set an example that continues to inspire and lead me.
He was and is my hero.
Grover B. Proctor, Sr. died on June 22, 1982 in Raleigh, N.C.
345th Regiment, U.S. Army. (ca.1946). "Historical Data and Background of the 345th Infantry Regiment: From 10 November 1942 to 21 September 1945". Official U.S. Army History, now stored in Washington, DC at the U.S. National Archives.
87th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. (ca.1946). "The 345th Infantry Regiment" in "An Historical and Pictorial Record of the 87th Infantry Division in World War II: 1942-1945".
Bain, J. (1999, May 30). Personal correspondence.
Fee, W.W. (1945). "With the Eleventh Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge: A Retrospective Diary". Silver Spring, MD: self-published.
Prather, W.T. (1999, June 11). Personal correspondence.
Procter, G. (1945, January 11). "History of 345th Infantry Regiment, 1 December 1944 thru 31 December 1944". U.S. Army: Declassified 4 December 1946, Authority NND735017, now stored in Washington, DC at the U.S. National Archives.
Procter, G. (1945, February 6). "History of 345th Infantry Regiment, 1 January 1945 thru 31 January 1945". U.S. Army: Declassified 4 December 1946, Authority NND735017, now stored in Washington, DC at the U.S. National Archives.
Procter, G. (1945, March 8). "History of 345th Infantry Regiment, 1 February 1945 thru 28 February 1945". U.S. Army: Declassified 4 December 1946, Authority NND735017, now stored in Washington, DC at the U.S. National Archives.
Strang, B. (1999, June 11). Personal correspondence.
Trowern, H.M. (2000, March). Battle of the Bulge oral history. The Golden Acorn News, 42(1), 24-31.
Williams, M. (1958). United States in World War II: Special Studies: Chronology 1941-1945. Washington, DC: U.S. Army.
Photo restoration and colorization of two pictures of Pfc. Grover Proctor (first and second paragraphs, right) was done by Melanie Bevill Arrowood, Asheville, North Carolina. Thank you, Melanie!