Tech/4 James S. Grubbs
M5A1 Stuart Bow Gunner/Assistant Driver
D Company, 753rd Tank Battalion, 36th/63rd Infantry Divisions
James Silas Grubbs was born on 5 March 1926 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Although born in Lawrenceburg, the county seat, James spent his childhood growing up in the northern part of Dearborn County in the small, unincorporated township of Logan which was so small that it lost its post office the year after his birth. Dearborn County, nestled in the corner of Ohio, next to Cincinnati, and Kentucky, across the Ohio River, was a sparsely populated part of the state but home to many homesteading farmers like James’ father. His family had lived in Dearborn County for generations and his father had decided to continue their farming tradition after marrying upon his return from service during the First World War. James, alongside his brother, grew up in a roughly 500-person town before dropping out of high school to help his dad on the farm and work side jobs to help support his family.
When he was only 15 James watched his country break out into war as many local boys only a few years older than him disappeared to travel across the world in service of the United States. For James, the first years of the war were pretty much the same, running the farm and going about daily life with the added exceptions of war bond drives and casualty lists in the local newspaper. After his 18th birthday in March 1944, he was made to register for the draft and several months later was officially notified of his selection to serve in the army. In early October he left home for Camp Atterbury and after a rushed basic training, was transferred to armor service at Camp Blanding, Florida. He spent his time at Blanding training in armored tactics and mechanics, specializing in tank driving and gunnery. This assignment went on for a few months before he was notified to report for overseas service in February 1945, traveling overseas to Southern then Central France, and likely reporting to the front by early March. Here he received his combat attachment as a Bow Gunner/Assistant Driver in an M5A1 Stuart light tank of D Company, 753rd Tank Battalion.
The 753rd had a long history in the European Theater, fighting alongside the infantry units of the 5th and 7th Army from Sicily, through the long stretch of Italy, the beaches of Southern France, the Vosges, and now the Rhineland. The unit contained countless veterans but had taken casualties to the vicious German defense of the Vosges Mountains, leaving room for replacements like James. At the time he joined the unit was attached to its longstanding command, the 36th Infantry Division, on rest before a final army-wide push for the Rhine River. While most of the battalion was equipped with 75mm and 76mm M4 Shermans, D Company was designated as the battalion’s light-tank company and employed the use of M5 Stuarts for reconnaissance and infantry support operations, driving in the infantry and fighting directly beside them to achieve operational objectives by providing heavy fire support.
James’ combat career kicked off on 15 March 1945 when his company, attached to the 143rd Infantry Regiment, partook in the 7th Army jump-off which saw the entire 36th Infantry Division initiate a drive to clear German forces from the western bank of the Rhine river. The first day, focused on securing Mietesheim, was mostly full of organic obstacles as mud snagged several vehicles and armed opposition was fairly light. The 17th, however, was full of more intensive frontline combat as James and the company moved to support assaults on Mont de Gunstett and Morsbronn, taking particularly heavy fire from a German unit dug into a hill north of Cunetett which was eventually neutralized by the mass fire of the tanks on their positions. This success was followed by some difficulty as a four-day excursion to support E Company of the 141st Infantry saw heavy artillery fire slow the advance of the tanks and their mounted infantry, leading them to perform small reconnaissance missions to search out alternative routes of advance into Schoenenbourg and Schweighofen. 22 March saw the company return to the 143rd, spending a day fighting off fierce German resistance during a night attack on the town of Bergzabern. Germans, with heavily entrenched machine-gun and anti-tank nests alongside several self-propelled guns, fought desperately to hold what was one of the last segments of the Siegfried line from the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 143rd. Supported by the Stuarts of D Company, however, the assault was able to make progress and by the early morning of the next day, James was getting plenty of target practice bow gunning as they stumbled across the final isolated pockets of Germans in the retreat while mopping up the city. Within a few hours, the strongpoints were mostly cleared as the last Germans attempted to ferry across the Rhine and by 0633 all targeted ferrying positions were secure along the river’s banks.
For the rest of the 24th, the company joined with some M4A3s of C Company to overcome heavy opposing forces at Oberhausen and Barbelroth before being held up by a hidden anti-tank gun near Steinweiler. Although unable to find the gun, the tankers were able to successfully assist the T-Patchers in taking the town and capturing hundreds of German prisoners within a matter of hours. Reattached to the 141st, James and the company spent the next week as part of a regimental drive north as German forces abandoned their defensive lines to fall back across the Rhine. The first few days were slow-going as the infantry had to check all buildings for signs of enemy activity but resistance was not encountered until 26-28 March when the tankers were sent to help clear pockets of German resistance out of the woods in the 141st sector. By 30 March all of the battalion’s companies were back together as a single unit, crossing the Rhine River at Mannheim under priority orders the next day while receiving orders to join their next unit for the final drive into Germany, the 63rd Infantry Division.
On 1 April D Company was reassigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 255th Infantry Regiment, mounting infantry upon their tanks and moving through numerous German towns with minimal opposition. At 0100 on the morning of the 2nd, the tanks were stopped by a German roadblock which proved the start of a small delaying force that the company spent most of the day fighting off in several nearby towns. The following week was spent alongside a different unit, the 254th Infantry, supporting their own assaults until reaching the target of Belsenberg and Ingelfingen, where they faced some strong resistance from a German stronghold south of the town. The towns of Kubach, Kupfenzell, and Dottingen were quick to follow as the Stuarts steamrolled through Southern Germany alongside their 63rd Division companions, only stopping on 18 April to clean a heavy concentration of German infantry from the woods near Altenberg, the streets of Wolpertshausen, and the heavy fighting around Balsenberg. Here the company is listed as expending many, many rounds of AP and HE shells as German infantry supported by armor came head to head with the veteran tankers of the 753rd. The attacks proved massively successful, however, and thanks to the work of D Company and the rest of the battalion crews the 63rd was able to penetrate the Nazi homeland in rapid order. Fittingly, however, the battalion returned to the 36th Infantry Division on 28 April and James’ company spent their last days of combat driving troops of the 141st Infantry Regiment back into battle before being put back into division reserve in the first week of May to receive their new vehicles, M24 Chaffees, on which they were training when the news broke that the entirety of the German armed forces had surrendered on 8 May 1945.
Although a combat veteran of only two months, James saw intense fighting as his veteran unit fought off fanatical German resistance alongside the infantry of the 36th and 63rd Infantry Divisions. As the army settled into occupation James stayed with the 753rd for a time while it was stationed outside of Munich before transferring into the 774th Tank Battalion when his combat unit was slated to return stateside in the fall of 1945. Without the points required to go back, James instead continued serving occupation duty until 1946 when he was finally given the opportunity to return home from war-torn Europe to his Indiana farmland. Not long after his homecoming he proposed to and married his sweetheart, in 1947, and settled in Bright, Indiana where he started what would become a 35-year career with the Seasongood Box Company overseeing their paper box manufacturing. He had two sons in the years immediately after the war and throughout his life spent his free time leading the local Boy Scout troop, assisting the local Lions Club, serving as a volunteer fireman, engaging with other veterans at the American Legion, and eventually opening up his own lawn and gardening business, as small-scale farming was still a lifelong hobby of his retained from his agricultural years, which he operated until retirement. In 2012 James passed away across the border in Cincinnati but returned to Bright where he was buried, leaving behind a large family and a legacy of service to his country and community.