The 36th Division Archive
Tech/3 William D. Barnett
Surgical Tech and Medic
Medical Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 310th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division
William Densmore Barnett Jr. was born to a small family in the rural farming community of Walden, Vermont. The son of a WWI veteran, William and his family held a proud military tradition dating back to the founding of the country. Despite this, William did not intend to serve and instead spent his days farming and working as an apprentice carpenter in Marshfield. As war broke out, however, even rural Vermont was not immune to the draft. William received his notice and joined the US Army in September of 1942.
Handy with small tools and filings from his carpentry days, the army somehow presumed he would be a good fit for the medical corps and received training as a surgical technician before joining the medical section of the 3rd Battalion, 310th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division. Not as eager as his ancestors, William attempted to receive a discharge claiming he needed to rejoin the civilian force as a vital worker on his family farm. The army deemed the need for medics greater and denied his request.
William and the 78th left for England in late 1944 and eventually arrived in France in November. The division was meant as a relief to the heavily battered allied forces that had served since D-Day, first seeing active combat time on December 1st while replacing the 1st Infantry Division near Entenpfuhl. The 78th did not get much time to settle in as less than two weeks later Rundstedt’s massive winter offensive put the 78th on the defensive, forcing them to hold their section of the Siegfried line against a strong German attack. The division went on the offensive towards the end of January and began pushing deep into Germany.
During this period of advance, William earned his Bronze Star Medal. Alongside his regular job as a surgeon for the battalion medical section, William managed the records and files. During an attack, enemy fire destroyed and heavily damaged much of the important medical records that detailed the injuries and deaths of the battalion’s soldiers. Knowing these records were vital to the awarding of proper awards, payments, and pensions, William went out of his way to carefully piece together the records from scraps in order to compile and reconstruct the paperwork for the regimental casualties. It was for his efficiency and devotion under combat conditions to ensure the men of his unit received their due compensation for injuries sustained in action that he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Not long after, William earned his Presidential Unit Citation and Purple Heart for actions leading up to and after the Remagen Bridge. Following the 9th Armored’s advance across the bridge, the 310th was technically considered the very first infantry battalion to cross the Rhine. William, sadly, did not make it that far to earn that title. Just a few days before the battalion reached the Rhine, they stumbled across Euskirchen, an important road, rail, and communications center for the German army. The battalion began its attack through the muddy, flat, plowed terrain with M4 Shermans leading the infantry. Preparing for their biggest battle yet, William and the men of the medical section had prepared a medical outpost for the suspected casualties. They were right, and throughout the day they were inundated with wounded GIs. The Germans had prepared strong defenses throughout the city and fought tooth and nail, with near-constant artillery fire battering the men of the 3rd battalion. While I cannot confirm whether William was acting as a combat medic at this time or was still near the outpost, an artillery shell landed near him and left him with several pieces of shrapnel across his body. Thankfully, he was able to be stabilized and sent to the rear for more intensive treatment but did survive the wound.
William rejoined the unit a month or so later for the final push, ending the war near Wuppertal. Having come so late to the fight, most of the 78th was forced to stay for occupation duty. Eventually, William was sent to the 12th Armored with whom he returned home, spending the rest of his days as a farmer before retiring to Williamstown.