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Major William M Denny

134th Infantry Regiment - Company C

Major William M Denny

Major William M. Denny, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, received the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster, European Theater of Operations Campaign Medal with four Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the American Defense Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic World War II combat service with Company C, 134th Infantry Regiment.

He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He enlisted in the Missouri National Guard's 138th Infantry Regiment in 1938. When his unit was activated in December of 1940, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, serving as a Range Officer, Transportation Officer, and Battalion S-4 in various units of the 35th Infantry Division. He completed Rifle and Heavy Weapons School at Ft. Benning, Georgia in June of 1941 and graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas in November of 1942. Captain Denny was then assigned as the S-4 of the 140th Infantry Regiment at Camp Howze, Texas, where the 35th Division was training for combat to join the fight in World War II.

In August 1944, Captain Denny deployed to the European Theater and was given command of Company C, 134th Infantry Regiment as it fought its way toward Germany. During the next four months, Captain Denny led his company across France and Belgium into Germany. Under his leadership, Company C conducted dangerous river crossings, successfully executed surprise attacks on German positions and won pitched battles against superior forces.

On November 14 and 15, 1944, Company C was in the battle to capture the town of Morhange, France. After 36 hours of fighting, they had captured the town and repulsed the German counterattack. Although Captain Denny had been at the head of his men during the entire battle, he went without rest to reorganize his unit - personally visiting every defensive position and encouraging each man to stay strong and alert throughout the night. Because of his leadership, the company was able to repulse another enemy counterattack the next morning and continue its advance. For these actions, Captain Denny was awarded the Bronze Star for his “heroic service . . . dynamic leadership, and devotion to duty."

In early December 1944, Company C was tasked to be one of the lead units to cross the Maderbach River and conduct a surprise attack on the town of Puttelange, France. On the night prior to the planned attack, Captain Denny made a personal reconnaissance of the river to select the best crossing points and then supervised the construction of foot bridges. The next morning, he led his men across the river and into the town without a single casualty. They then captured several enemy machine gun positions which the unsuspecting enemy had left unmanned, and then continued into the town where they captured 110 members of the SS Elite Guard. For this action, Captain Denny was awarded his second Bronze Star, which cited his "brilliant leadership and skill in surprising hostile forces."

Approximately one week later, Company C was selected to lead an attack across the Blies River into Germany and establish a bridgehead at Habkirchen. Again, they were able to make the river crossing undetected and capture two fortified positions and 67 Germans without a fight. However, as they moved into the town the now-alerted Germans put up heavy resistance, launching several counterattacks and severely disrupting the flow of reinforcements and supplies that had to cross the Blies River. For the next two days, Company C and the remains of Company B fought off intense enemy attacks, direct fire, and house-to-house fighting to maintain this first, narrow toe-hold on German soil. On the third day, two battalions of the 134th were able to fight their way into Habkirchen and capture the town. For these actions, Company C was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, and Captain Denny was awarded the Silver Star for "gallantry in action."

After the Germans had begun their final major counterattack in December 1944 (called the Battle of the Bulge), the 134th Infantry Regiment (including Captain Denny and his Company C) were fighting their way north to relieve the 101st Airborne Division, which was trapped at Bastogne, Belgium. Near the town of Lutrebois, about two miles south of Bastogne, Company C ran into large forces of the German Army.

On the morning of January 4, 1945, Company C was part of an attack toward the German positions near Sainlez. Moving under the cover of dense fog, they again surprised the enemy and overran their outlying positions, capturing another 20 Germans. Captain Denny then continued the attack and penetrated the enemy lines, but ended up deep in enemy territory, surrounded by Germans. As night fell, Company C was ordered to attack the German lines from the rear, near Lutrebois, to support the 137th Infantry Regiment. Captain Denny reorganized his company and was leading them through the dark, snowy forest toward Lutrebois when they were attacked by an overwhelming German force. Although many of the men were able to escape and make their way back to friendly lines, Captain Denny, at the head of his troops, was captured.

After being taken prisoner, Captain Denny was marched across Luxemburg to Hammelburg, Germany. Almost all of the journey was on foot because the Germans were running out of vehicles. He spent the remaining months of the war as a POW in Oflag 13B near Hammelburg. Prisoners at this camp suffered harsh conditions, with starvation rations, no heat or running water, and cruel treatment by their German guards. Captain Denny lost 50 pounds in three months under these conditions. He was twice liberated by American troops, but the first attempt on March 27, called Operation Task Force Baum, failed and many of the American POWs were killed or recaptured. After this attempt, their diet was reduced to practically nothing and Captain Denny said they would have starved had it not been for the Serbian POWs sharing their rations with the Americans. On April 6, 1945, they were finally liberated by the 14th Armored Division of the U.S. Army.

Captain Denny was evacuated to various hospitals in France for several weeks and then flown to Mayo General Hospital in Illinois for further treatment. Upon recovery from his wartime injuries, Captain Denny became commander of Company K, 2nd Regiment, at Ft. Ord, California from October 1945 to June 1946. He was then assigned as a S-1 officer of the 1st Training Regiment at Camp Stoneman, California until September of 1946. Captain Denny was then assigned to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. and promoted to Major. Due to his wartime injuries, he was medically retired in March of 1947.

Upon his retirement, Major Denny remained active with the 35th Division Association and the 35th Division Reunion Corporation when it planned and executed the 1950 Reunion, which featured President Harry Truman as its honored guest.

Major Denny married his wife Anna Mae in 1941, and together they had eight children. Mrs. Denny passed away in 2010, and seven of the children are still alive. Major Denny passed away on September 20, 1999. He was inducted into the 35th Division Hall of Fame (Class XII) on October 9, 2021.


Video of the 35th Division Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony


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