Sgt John L O'Leary Name : John L O'Leary
Rank : Sergeant
Regiment : 334th Infantry Regiment
Division : 84th Infantry Division
Entered Service from : Ft. Devans, MA
Date of Birth : 23 April 1924
Place of Birth : Lynn, MA
Awards : Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Combat badge

John "Jack" O'Leary's Story ... told by himself

I was born and raised in Lynn, MA a city about 12 miles from Boston. My father was a machinist working for the GE co. the largest industry in the city and a professional musician. I graduated from High School in June, 1942 and knew that I would be drafted very soon. I would have liked to have been in the Navy but since I was quite nearsighted I couldn't enlist.

Central Square in Lynn, Massachusetts

I was drafted and inducted in March of 1943 and was sent to the 777th AAA stationed at Ft. Sheridan, IL about 50 miles north of Chicago, and went through my basic training with them. Shortly after I finished my basic training I was transferred into a new battery the 837th AAA. Very soon after that I was told that I qualified to go into a college program and ultimately wound up at Lehigh University at Bethlehem Penn. In the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). We attended regular classes related to engineering and I was there for 9 months.

We wound up at Lehigh University ...

In April of 1944 the Army discontinued the ASTP and all of the students were sent into Infantry Divisions. On April 1st 1944 I found myself in the E company area of the 334th Infantry Regiment of the 84th Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne, LA. I understand about 3000 men from mostly Eastern colleges were sent to the 84th. Because many of the men who were in ASTP had not had a basic training we were given another basic training and then joined our companies and were assigned to various platoons. I was in the second platoon. In the summer of 1944 we were doing training problems and spent much of the time in the woods of Louisiana.

AAA training in 1944

In September we were ordered to go overseas and went to Camp Shanks NJ which was the Port of Embarkation for New York. We boarded a ship called the Thomas F Barry that had been converted from a cruise ship. We spent about 12 days on our voyage and we were supposed to have landed at Cherbourg, but the port was overloaded and we landed at Southampton, England. We had lost one of our regiments We had lost one of our regiments because the ship that they were on was involved in a collision leaving New York and we had to wait for them to catch up. We spent a month at Winchester at the barracks of the original Black Watch Regiment. During that time we were given a 3 day pass to go to London.

Troopship Thomas Barry

Early in November we crossed the channel and landed at Omaha beach and were put on trucks for our trip east to the front. We entered combat on November 18th at the city of Geilenkirchen which was on the Siegfried Line. Our casualties were quite high and out of a squad of twelve men there were three men left after about five days. We received some replacements and continued our attack on pillboxes of the German line of defense until about the 16th of December 1944. They took us back to the kitchen and we had showers and clean clothes and then loaded us on trucks. After dark the trucks used their black-out lights but after a while they turned on the regular lights and we stopped. There were a few houses where we stopped and the residents thought that we were Germans at first.


the 84th (Railsplitter) Division in Geilenkirchen, Germany 1944
photos by Maurice Miller

We were at Marche Belgium and were stationed along the road to Hotton to stop the German attack. Normally fox holes are perhaps five or ten yards apart but our holes were probably 100 yards apart along that road. Of course it was December in the Ardennes and temperatures were in the teens (-7 to -12 Celsius) most days with lots of snow. On January 8, 1945 we were attacking across a large field and one of the men in the platoon was hit by shrapnel of a mortar shell. His name was Joe Lippi and ultimately he died of that wound (for the story of Joseph Lippi Sr. look in the "Buried at Henri-Chapelle section of this website).


Joseph Lippi Sr & Snow in the Ardennes

A couple of days later in the morning I was hit by a tree burst from a mortar shell. One piece went right through my right chest. After an operation in Paris and a couple of hospitals in England I landed at Mitchell field on May 8th 1945, VE-day. I was ambulatory, but not well enough to get into New York for the celebration. A couple of days later I was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. My parents came to see me after a few days. While I was at the hospital I took part in lots of activities including being MC for a radio talent show.


Walter Reed Hospital ... after the war

During the war there was a radio broadcast once a week on NBC called The Army Hour which covered various phases of the war. It was a report to the American people by the War Department. On November 11 1945 they decided to end the series and I was asked to MC the last broadcast from New York. I was discharged on November 30, 1945 and returned home to Lynn. My brother who was a pilot of a B24 out of England came about the same time. He had completed 28 missions.

The Army Hour, November 11, 1945 ...

AMC Axtract from 8 November 1945 ...

I was married in 1947 to a lady, Mildred Edwards that I met in Washington and had one child a daughter Patricia who was born in 1948. I graduated as an optometrist in 1949 and practiced in New Bedford. MA for six years. In 1956 I moved to Jacksonville, FL. They would not allow me to take Optometry boards there, and I joined New York Life as an agent and later as a manager in New Orleans, Beaumont, TX and Amarillo, TX.

practicing optometry ...

In 1972 I was able to move to Miami with another company and ultimately retired in 1982. I owned a 20ft open fishing boat and spent many happy hours fishing for and catching seatrout out of Key Largo and in the back country between the Keys and the mainland. I have worked as a substitute teacher, and now amd volunteer by playing a keyboard at senior centers, teaching beginners bridge and completing tax returns for AARP during the tax season. These days I'm enjoying my life in San Antonio, TX.

Me and my brother (right) in uniform ...

Special thanks to John "Jack" L O'Leary
published March 6, 2008