United States Army
2nd Infantry Division, 9th Regiment
From an early age, Donald Saville had an interest in the military. He joined ROTC when he attended South High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. During his senior year in 1939, he was appointed Cadet Lt. Colonel to command the ROTC Battalion.
His interest in the military continued when he entered the University of Utah in 1940. The war in Europe was escalating, and many people in the United States did not want to become involved in another world war. President Franklin Roosevelt was walking a very fine line during this election year, attempting to pacify the anti-war movement while at the same time creating the Lend Lease program to assist Great Britain in its struggle for survival.
In addition to being part of ROTC, Donald was also involved in the Civilian Military Training Corps and was in the Utah National Guard. It was not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that Donald knew he had to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army in September 1942. During basic training, he applied for and was accepted to the Army’s Officer Training School. He graduated as a second lieutenant in May 1943.
After graduation he had several assignments in Texas, Mississippi, Maryland, and New York. It was while stationed in Maryland that he met his future wife, Grayce, a senior at the University of Maryland at College Park. In January 1944, Donald boarded a troop ship destined for western Scotland. From there, he was shipped to southern England and was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 9th Regiment. Interestingly, this was the same regiment and division to which his father, Evern, had been assigned during World War I.
Don landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day plus one, June 7, 1944 and took a position in the front line battle areas. Troop morale was pretty low during this period. The fighting was fierce as the advance was slow because of the hedgerow which was difficult to overcome. In July, Don received what he referred to as a minor wound to his hand earning the first of two Purple Hearts. By mid-August, after overcoming the German forces, the 2nd Division was tasked with capturing the city of Brest, located on France’s far-western peninsula which it accomplished by mid-September.
The 2nd Division was next transported to Bastogne, Belgium. Don’s unit, the 9th Infantry Regiment, entered Germany on October 4, 1944 in the Schnee-Eiffel and occupied many of the German Siegfreid Line cement bunkers. The unit stayed in a defensive position for about 65 days. During this period, while on an assignment to obtain radio equipment in the town of Liege, Don was approached by Marcel Maes, a local citizen who was fluent in English. He questioned Don and the sergeant accompanying him asking if they were aware that Franklin Roosevelt had been elected for a fourth time. After a bit of small talk, Marcel invited the two GIs to his house for breakfast. Marcel had been part of the Belgian underground and he had concealed escaped Allied POWs in his home. Don was amazed at how Marcel’s home had been modified with false walls and passageways in order to hide soldiers. The German practice was to kill not only the discovered soldiers but also the families who harbored them. Marcel and his family never met such a fate.
In December 1944, the 2nd Division moved to Elsenborne, Belgium in preparation for an attack behind the German line. It was their objective to secure dams along the Roer River. The attack, which became known to the men of the 2nd Division as the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroad, took place in freezing weather. It was a bloody and costly four day battle. Don suffered a severe injury when a German mortar shell exploded a few feet in front of him. Metal fragments pierced his face, neck and left shoulder. Because his unit was pinned down, medical attention was slow in coming. Don spent days laying in the snow waiting for help. Finally, he was evacuated to the U.S. Army 56th General Hospital in Liege. Following surgery, he spent about three days in a cold storage room so that his feet could thaw. Don received his second Purple Heart for his injuries.
On Christmas Eve, Don was allowed to venture out of the hospital and walk around town. He spent the afternoon with the Maes family who were celebrating the Christmas holiday. Marcel and his 11 year old daughter Jacqueline accompanied Don back to the hospital at the end of the day. For many years, Don stayed in contact with the Maes family, enjoying a reunion with Jacqueline and her husband when they visited the United States.
Don rejoined his unit in January, 1945 as it advanced toward the Rhine River. They took the towns of Giessen and Leipzig after some heavy fighting. From there, the 2nd Division headed toward Czechoslovakia. In early May, shortly after they entered what was known as the Sudetenland, a U.S. paratrooper who had been captured on D-Day and had escaped German imprisonment, entered the Allied lines. He informed the command of the great number of POWs hidden in the homes of Czech citizens who were being hunted down by German military units. Don was assigned to lead a small patrol to find and bring back as many POWs as possible.
Don’s patrol consisted of two tank destroyers and a jeep. After several hours of searching, the patrol came upon a small town with a fairly large town square. The patrol entered with sirens blaring. They were immediately surrounded by cheering residents. Don was approached by the town’s mayor who spoke English fairly well and who interestingly had a brother living in Wisconsin. The mayor informed him that the Germans had retreated when they heard the sirens. The mayor told Don there were a number of former American, British and French POWs hiding in the homes of residents, and there were some who were being cared for in a small local hospital.
Don followed the mayor up a set of narrow stairs that led to the top of a tower overlooking the town square. Through a public address system, the mayor urged citizens to bring the former POWs to the square. Don then made a similar announcement directed at the POWs. Before long, about 20 ex-POWs were in the square, climbing aboard the tank destroyers and the jeep. Amid cheers, Don thanked the residents on behalf of the soldiers and their families for their daring efforts to save the former POWs.
Shortly after returning the ex-POWs behind Allied lines, Don and his unit liberated the city of Rokycany. While in the city, his platoon set up a road block at a railroad crossing on the east side of town. Russian troops set up a roadblock at the opposite side of the railroad crossing. It was a tense period as the
Russians rounded up Czech citizens who were pregnant, or suffering from injury or illness. They were sent to the American side for medical assistance. The battalion doctor, Captain Robert Hall, spent many days tending to their needs and helped deliver many babies.
The 2nd Division returned to the United States in July 1945. They expected to be shipped to the Pacific war theater and invade Japan. During a 30-day leave, Don married his fiancé, Grayce E. Martin. Following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.
Don was separated from the Army on December 14, 1945. He reentered college at the University of Utah and then transferred to Washington, D.C., where he completed his studies at George Washington University. He spent his career working for the National Security Agency (NSA). He and Grayce have two daughters and two grandchildren.
During his service to his country, Don earned the Bronze Star, two purple hearts, a distinguished unit badge, a good conduct medal, an American Defense Ribbon, a Combat Infantry Badge and an EAME Theater Ribbon with 5 Bronze Service Stars.
~ CHIP BERTINO