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Monday, May 31, 2021

Uncle Mac of The Greatest Generation

When I was a kid my dad had a best friend from his early days as a CPA, Lamont G. Mac Donald, or as I knew him "Uncle Mac". My dad and Uncle Mac were both returning from WWII and went to college on the GI Bill to get accounting degrees. My dad served in the Navy as an Ensign on an LST in the Pacific. You can see more about my dad in an earlier blog post. Uncle Mac was a Captain the Army in Europe.

This is the story of Uncle Mac. I never knew about any of this until Uncle Mac died at the age of 86 and we went to his funeral at San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella, when a man I had known for 50 years ended up being exposed as the greatest hero I have ever known.

Let me apologize for not having any photos of Uncle Mac. I probably have some in storage somewhere. So the photos attached are for example, not actually him. Also, I only have my fading memory to recall the citation which was read at Uncle Mac's funeral as to the events that lead to his Silver Star for valor and Purple Heart for injuries sustained. I have requested his service record from the National Archives, but not sure what I will get.

Lamont G. MacDonald "Mac" was born on June 23, 1921, in Kanab, Utah near St George. He was raised by his father Graham and mother Emily in a Mormon family on his family ranch, which stayed in their family through his passing. He had 5 brothers and 3 sisters. I don't know much about his family.

There was an interesting reference to him working in the suppers as a grocery clerk and a chauffer for movie executives filming in Kanab before joining the army. He went to Kanab High School and to BAC College for three years. There is also mention that he went on a 2 year mission to Texas for the Mormon church.

He enlisted in the Army in June 1942. He went to Camp Callan near San Diego for basic training, and then to Camp Davis North Carolina for Officer Specialist School, and finally Camp Benning GA for Infantry training. He was first assigned to the Coast Artillery and then after Infantry School transferred to the 289th Infantry Regiment, 75th Division. He was assigned a platoon as their 2nd Lieutenant. 

In June 1944 he and his unit flew to England, moved down to Wales, then sailed across the English Channel to land in Le Havre France, only to march up to Belgium where they were to start their combat with the Germans as "Green Soldiers". They had little experience.

It was now December and the 289th was part of an offensive with the Germans that was scheduled to happen on Christmas Eve. 

This web site describes the macro situation in pretty good detail. 

And this time line shows the overall view of the events leading up to that night.

Battle of the Bulge Timeline

11 Dec 1944 Adolf Hitler held a meeting with top German military commanders at the Adlerhorst headquarters in Wetterau, Germany, stressing the importance of the upcoming Ardennes Offensive.
16 Dec 1944 German troops launched Operation Wacht am Rhein, crossing the German border toward Belgium, opening the Battle of the Bulge.
16 Dec 1944 A German officer carrying several copies of Operation Greif (the codename for Otto Skorzeny's infiltration of "fake Americans" to cause confusion ahead of the Ardennes Offensive) was taken prisoner and the treacherous plan was revealed.
17 Dec 1944 150 prisoners of war of US 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were massacred by Waffen-SS forces at Malmédy, Belgium. Only 43 survived.
18 Dec 1944 The German offensive in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium began to stall after Americans began to fight back.
19 Dec 1944 Germans captured 9,000 surrounded US troops in the Schnee Eifel region on the Belgian-German border. Meanwhile, the US 101st Airborne of the Allied reserves and 10th Armored Divisions of the US Third Army were sent to Bastogne to hold the vital road junction in Belgium.
20 Dec 1944 Armored elements of German 6.SS-Panzerarmee captured Stavelot, Belgium, capturing the US fuel supply stored there for their own use.
21 Dec 1944 US forces captured Stavelot, Belgium, while the Germans surrounded Bastogne and captured St. Vith.
22 Dec 1944 In Bastogne, Belgium, the German surrender demand is rebuffed by General McAuliffe with the famous response "Nuts!"; meanwhile, the US Third Army shifted its axis of advance in attempt to relieve Bastogne. In Germany, Rundstedt suggested a tactical withdrawal, but the suggestion was refused by Hitler.
25 Dec 1944 US 2nd Armored Division, with British help, stopped German 2.Panzer Division just 4 miles from the Meuse River in Belgium.
25 Dec 1944 A surprise Luftwaffe attack on Bastogne, Belgium bombed Anthony McAuliffe's headquarters and the 10th Armored aid station. The three–storey building collapsed on top of the wounded patients and set the ruins on fire. Nurse Renée Lemaire was killed together with twenty-five seriously wounded patients, burnt to death in their beds. Soldiers rushing to pull away debris found themselves also machine gunned by the low-flying bombers.
26 Dec 1944 US Third Army under George Patton relieved the besieged city of Bastogne, Belgium.
27 Dec 1944 US troops began pushing German troops back in the Ardennes region, thus ending the German offensive.
28 Dec 1944 American troops began gaining ground in their counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Adolf Hitler ordered renewed offensives in Alsace and Ardennes regions against the advice of his generals.
30 Dec 1944 Germans again attacked in the Bastogne corridor in Belgium. Meanwhile, British troops attacked Houffalize, Belgium, but they were stopped by fierce German defense.
31 Dec 1944 US troops re-captured Rochefort, Belgium, while the US Third Army began an offensive from Bastogne.
1 Jan 1945 German troops began a withdrawal from the Ardennes Forest in the Belgian-German border region. Meanwhile, in retaliation for the Malmedy massacre, US troops massacred 30 SS prisoners at Chenogne, Belgium. In the air, the German Luftwaffe launched Unternehmen Bodenplatte, which consisted of 800 aircraft conducting low-level strikes against snow-bound Allied airfields in the Netherlands and Belgium. They destroyed 220 aircraft, mainly on the ground, but lost 188 aircraft of their own, as well as many experienced pilots who could not be replaced. This operation failed to achieve its goal of wiping out Allied air power based in the region.
3 Jan 1945 US First Army launched an attack on the northern flank of the Ardennes bulge in Belgium. Meanwhile, 1,100 Allied bombers, escorted by 11 fighter groups, bombed railroad and communications centers in western Germany.
5 Jan 1945 The German attack on Bastogne, Belgium was called off.
9 Jan 1945 US Third Army attacked towards Houffalize, Belgium, on the southern flank of the Ardennes bulge.
11 Jan 1945 British forces captured La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium, northwest of Bastogne.
12 Jan 1945 The Operation Nordwind offensive into France was finally stopped just 13 miles from Strasbourg. In Belgium, north of Bastogne, US and British forces linked up near La Roche-en-Ardenne.
13 Jan 1945 US First Army attacked near Stavelot and Malmédy in Belgium.
16 Jan 1945 US First and Third Armies linked up near Houffalize, Belgium, while British Second Army attacked near Maas River. The Germans were pushed back to the line prior to the launch of the Ardennes Offensive.
28 Jan 1945 The Ardennes bulge was finally pushed back to its original lines, thus ending the Battle of the Bulge.

Christmas Eve into Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, Company K, 290th, of which Uncle Mac's Platoon was a part, supported on the flanks by Cos. I and L, made a direct assault on a high hill controlling the approach to Hampteau. 

From his Silver Star citation which was read at his funeral: "There was a German machine gun nest dug in on top of the hill. Two soldiers from Captain (later awarded) Mac Donald's platoon, were assigned to storm the position and overtake it using grenades, while supported by cover fire from the rest of the platoon. The two soldiers were both wounded and fell to the ground. Also several of the platoon had been injured or killed. 

Captain Mac Donald first crawled on his belly out of his trench, to the wounded soldiers and dragged them back to safety, then he returned to crawl up to the German machine gun position by himself, throwing a grenade into it, and then charging into the bunker, killing all of the machine gun crew in hand to hand combat. During this assault he sustained significant injuries."

I don't know what his injuries were, but he received a Purple Heart for them.

Although pinned down by withering machine gun and mortar fire, these units seized enemy positions, thus ending the threat to Hotton. The high water mark of the German drive on Liege had been reached.

For his valor in combat he received the Silver Star. The third highest honor a soldier can receive for actions in combat. He saved the lives of two of the soldiers under his command. He eliminated a German stronghold single handedly, and he enabled the US Army to win the battle, ultimately leading to the defeat of German, and the liberation of Europe.

The Uncle Mac I Knew

After the war, Uncle Mac graduated from Utah State University and Golden Gate College. He went to work for LH Penny, a CPA firm where he met my dad. My dad and Uncle Mac worked together for many years and became very close friends. They both married and adopted families. My two sisters and I would travel with my parents from our home in the Bay Area to their home in Fresno often. And we went on vacations together to Blue Lakes, Donner Lake, and once to Hawaii.

For many years Uncle Mac managed the Cadillac-Olds dealership in Fresno, later opening his own auto leasing business. In the automobile business, he was well known for his honesty and integrity.

Uncle Mac always was a great husband and father. Once he was hand excavating a swimming pool in their new home. He dug out a set of trenches, covered them with plywood and dirt, and made an underground fort for us to play in, before ultimately digging the rest of the pool hole out. He was that kind of a father.

His wife, Bettie (Elisabeth) was an author who did very well in her own right. You can find her books on Amazon, well reviewed and still available.

Bettie and Mac's two children Brian and Karen were a great childhood friends. Sadly Brian ended his life in a very sad way before either of his parents passed.

In all the 50 years I knew him, I never once heard Uncle Mac talk about the war, his role in the most decisive battle in Europe, his injuries, or his Silver Star. The greatest generation never talked about their valor, or their trauma, they just stoically endured.

I miss Uncle Mac, Brian, Karen, Aunt Bettie and the golden days of childhood that they provided to me, along with my parents. A childhood of freedom and enjoyment secured by my Uncle Mac, a great American hero!