James L. Clarkson was the son of J. L. Clarkson, manager of the Fort Myers Golf and Country Club (Florida). James, known as Jimmy to his friends, was graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1935. While in high school he was a star on the Green Wave football team and was prominent in other school activities. He attended the University of Florida where he received his military training under the R.O.T.C. After graduation from college, James Clarkson was employed by the G.M.A.C. in Gainesville (FL) until he was called into active service in December, 1941, as a reserve officer.
Before going overseas James married Caroline Hunter and had one daughter with her, Cynthia Louise, born on June 2, 1944. Captain James L. Clarkson became Commanding Officer of Company D, 1st Battalion, 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. Activated on March 15, 1943, the 106th Infantry Division had trained thousands of men as replacements. At Ft. Jackson, S.C., its first station, the Division went through tough preliminary training: obstacle and infiltration courses, storming villages, and field problems. In the Tennessee winter maneuvers of 1944, the Division learned to fight in terrain and weather which resembled the rugged, cold Ardennes. Maneuvers over, the 106th Infantry Division moved to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, for seven months of advanced training. Its unit commanders were prepared for the trying days to come. The 106th Division left the United States in mid-October and then spent several weeks in the South Midlands of England. Immediately after Thanksgiving (November 23, 1944), the units of the 423rd Infantry Regiment started moving from their billets in the Cotswolds (England) to embarkation points. Members of Regimental Headquarters and Special Units, on the Empire Javelin, went down the rope nets onto the LSTs. Debarkation in the vicinity of Le Havre was completed on December 1, 1944.
Closing into the staging area at Red Horse (Limesy, France) the 423rd Infantry Regiment was reassembled by December 3, except for one LST containing the vehicles of two Battalion Headquarters Companies and one Heavy Weapons Company. At the staging area information was received that the 106th Division was to be attached to 1st Army and finally, on December 8, Regimental Combat Team 423, with various attachments, commenced a motor move. Following the road markers of the “RED BALL” express, the convoy reached St. Vith, Belgium (a distance of 270 miles) in two days. It was bitter cold and snowing the second day, roads were slippery and treacherous, and radio silence made control of the lengthy column extremely difficult.
106th Infantry Division patch
December 10 was spent in reconnaissance of positions down to and including Platoon Sergeants. On the morning of December 11, the 423rd Infantry Regiment moved out of St. Vith through Auw and Schönberg, names which were to be stamped indelibly in the minds of all the soldiers in only a few days. Just prior to departure from Red Horse their 1st Army “Expediter” Lt. Col. Throckmorton, talked by phone to 1st Army G-3 and was assured that the missing LST would unload the soldiers in sufficient time to join the 423rd Infantry Regiment before departure. The landing was finally completed and the convoy, under Major Carl H. Cosby, Executive Officer of the 1st Battalion, made the entire trip From Le Havre to St. Vith without stopping except for refueling. The vehicles arrived in time to join their units which were moving into the lines. Favored by snow and a low ceiling, the daytime relief of the famed 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division was completed at 17.00 Hours . “It has been very quiet up here and your men will learn the easy way,” Colonel Boos (38th Infantry Regiment) said upon departure to Colonel Cavender (Commanding Officer of the 423rd Infantry Regiment). This was a quiet sector along the Belgium-Germany frontier. For 10 weeks there had been only light patrol activity and the sector was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division so it could gain experience. The baptism of fire that was to come was the first action for the Division.
The 423rd Infantry Regiment, less 2nd Battalion in Division Reserve at Born and Medell, Belgium, with Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron attached, occupied and took over the defense of a Sector of the 106th Division Area. The Sector included a portion of the former German fortified area approximately twenty miles east of St. Vith, Belgium. Due to the extreme width of the Sector approximately seven and one half miles frontage, the position could not be occupied in depth, and reserves, except for Service Company and Clerks were not available. Orders were, to take over, man for man, and job for job. The period of December 12 to 15 was spent in familiarization and readjustment. During the night of December 15, front line units of the 106th Infantry Division noticed increased activity in the German positions.
On December 16, the German Infantry supported by armor and preceded by intense artillery and mortar concentrations attacked the right of the Regimental Sector prior to daylight, using search lights. This Sector extending from Winterscheid to Bleialf, both towns inclusive, was defended by a composite Battalion commanded by Captain Charles B. Reid. This unit consisted of Troop B, 18th Cavalry, AT Company, 2nd Platoon Cannon Company, fighting as riflemen and one composite rifle platoon from 3rd Battalion, 423rd Infantry Regiment. The full force of this massive attack was thrown against the new, untried 106th Infantry Division which had gone into the front lines for the first time only five days previous. A wedge was immediately driven between Troop B, on the extreme right, and the AT Company, in the vicinity of the Railroad Tunnel. Contact with Troop B was lost by the Battalion Commander and never regained. Barrages were laid down in front of the 423rd Infantry Regiment's positions in Bleialf. However, accurate Cannon Company fire along with the stubborn resistance of the 423rd ‘s GIs succeeded in breaking up repeated attacks of the German Infantry.
The 106th Division Reconnaissance Troop, which occupied the town of Groslangenfeld, between the right of the 423rd Infantry Regiment's Sector and the left of the 424th Infantry Regiment, was overrun. Captain Fossland's Troop B was forced back giving ground slowly. A counterattack at noon of December 16 by Company B, 81st Engineers, 3rd Platoon and Headquarters Group of Cannon Company and all available cooks and clerks from Headquarters Company and Service Company restored Bleialf and partially closed the gap between AT Company and Troop B. In order that Captain Reid could devote all of his time to his company, the Regimental Executive Officer, Lt. Col. Frederick W. Nagle took command in Bleialf. Throughout the night pressure against the men of the 423rd Infantry Regiment, who had taken up positions in front of Bleialf increased.
106th Infantry Division, 16-19 December 1944
(click on picture to enlarge)
By noon of December 17, Germans overran the 423rd Infantry Regiment's thinly held lines and isolated units of the composite Battalion into small groups. Although Colonel Nagle's was critically wounded and his Command Post taken, he reformed the remnants of the AT and Cannon Companies on the right of the 1st Battalion, 423rd Infantry Regiment. A small group of Troop B under Capt. Robert G. Fossland regained allied lines on December 21. Company B, 81st Engineers, under Capt. William J. Hynes fought their way back to Schönberg where they were surrounded and captured by German Armor on December 18. Capt. James L. Manning, Commanding Officer of Cannon Company, was killed in Bleialf. Now s urrounded, the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments fought on. Ammunition and food ran low. Appeals were radioed to HQ to have supplies flown in, but the soupy fog which covered the frozen countryside made air transport impossible.
On December 17, about 16.00 Hours, the 2nd Battalion under Lt. Colonel Joseph F. Puett joined the 423rd Infantry Regiment on the Schnee Eifel Ridge. Upon completion of a Division Mission to extricate the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, Colonel Puett found his return to St. Vith blocked by German armor which now fully controlled the Auw-Schönberg-St. Vith road. Lt. Col. Vaden Lackey, also moved the 423rd Combat Team artillery, the 590th FA Battalion, onto the Schnee-Eifel and a perimeter defense was formed by darkness on December 17.
Belated orders to withdraw to the line of the Our River were received about midnight of December 17 to 18. A subsequent message directed the Regiment to take up positions south of the St. Vith-Schönberg road, with information that one American Armored Division was to attack down this road. Moving out of positions in Schnee-Eifel under cover of heavy fog, the 2nd Battalion, 423rd Infantry Regiment which was in the lead, encountered groups of German soldiers which were pushed back to Radscheid. Previous orders were revoked and the 423rd Infantry Regiment was now ordered to move against the main German strength at Schönberg, thence west towards St. Vith in order to break out of the encirclement. The 3rd Battalion, under Lt. Col. Earl F. Klinck, moved to the east of the 2nd Battalion with orders to cut the Bleialf-Schönberg road. At 16.00 Hours the 1st Battalion, among them Captain James Clarkson with his Company D, attacked on the left of the 2nd Battalion and by nightfall had pushed the Germans back, relieving the pressure on the 2nd Battalion. The last message received from Division at 20.00 Hours stated it was imperative that Schönberg be taken.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions were moved into positions in rear of their 3rd Battalion, 423rd Infantry Regiment, by daylight on December 19. All efforts to establish contact with the 422nd Infantry Regiment on the right failed. At 08.30 Hours Battalion Commanders were assembled and orders issued for the attack on Schönberg at 10.00 Hours. At 09.30 Hours heavy artillery concentrations started falling on the entire Regimental area. This heavy German artillery fire mortally wounded Lt. Col. Craig and killed Captain James H. Hardy, commanding Company M. That same artillery barrage killed Captain James L. Clarkson, commanding Company D. Captain Clarkson was awarded a Silver Star Medal, probably for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. Note that official records show as Captain James L. Clarkson's Date of Death December 21, 1944 instead of December 19, 1944.
Company L, on the Bleialf-Schönberg road, ran into heavy opposition and by 13.00 Hours had been knocked out and at that same time the 1st Battalion had been eliminated. The 2nd Battalion moved to the right and attached themselves to the 422nd Infantry Regiment. The 3rd Battalion, less Company L, pushed forward to within 200 yards of their objective but were hopelessly pinned down by fire from 88mm cannons emplaced on the high ground just north of Schönberg. By 16.00 Hours it was apparent that further resistance was an useless sacrifice of life and the remnants of the 423rd Infantry Regiment were surrendered. Small groups of men were selected to endeavor to infiltrate through to St. Vith. The 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments, with the 589th and 590th Field Artillery Battalions, had surrendered and the 424th Infantry Regiment was driven back and escaped the encirclement. Two regiments, the 422nd and 423rd, were cut off and surrounded by the sheer weight and power of the concentrated German hammer blows. The 424th Regt. was driven back. The 106th Recon Troop, 331st Medical Battalion, and 81st Engineer Combat Battalion suffered heavy casualties. The Division had during the Battle of the Bulge 544 men killed or wounded. Over 7000 men of the 106th Infantry Division went into German captivity and would spend the duration of the war in a series of POW camps. The 106th Division had been on the line for only five days.
Scene of the Battle of the Bulge
Captain Clarkson was reported missing in action in January, 1945.On March 29, 1945, Mrs. Caroline Clarkson received word from the War Department that her husband, Captain James L. Clarkson, had been killed in action on the western front. Surviving besides Capt. James Clarkson's father and his wife Mrs. Caroline Clarkson, who lived at the time of his death with her mother, Mrs. Nat Hunter on Fowler Street, he left a 10-months-old daughter, Cynthia Louise; a sister, Miss Hazel Clarkson; and a brother, Busby Clarkson, both of where at that time students at Fort Myers High School. On February 2, 1980, James Clarkson's daughter, Cynthia L. Clarkson Elliott, passed away.
Although isolated and cut off from all re-supply of ammunition and food and evacuation of wounded for four days, all elements of the Regiment fought stubbornly and heroically against overwhelming odds. All contact with Division was lost early on December 16, except for the Division Command radio set, which worked in spite of German interference and unfavorable climatic conditions, until it was knocked out by German action early on December 19. Adverse weather conditions prevented Allied aircraft from dropping desperately needed ammunition, food and medical supplies. The stubborn resistance of the 423rd Infantry Regiment delayed the Germans in their seizure of the necessary road point at St. Vith by four days thereby materially slowing the flow of German armor into the communication routes of Division, Corps and Army.
Captain James L. Clarkson's final resting place is, together with 7,989 brothers in arms, the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium, Plot G, Row 5, Grave 42.
James L. Clarkson
106th Infantry Division
423rd Infantry Regiment
1st Battalion, Company D
Entered the Service from: Lee County, Florida
Killed in Action: December 19, 1944 (according to official records December 21, 1944)
Awards: Silver Star Medal and Purple Heart
The adoptant of Captain James L. Clarkson's grave, Rene Vaesen, is searching for more information about Capt. James Clarkson. Every kind of information is more than welcome. You can contact Rene at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Colonel Charles C. “Moe” Cavender (Commanding) - The 423rd in the Bulge
The 106th: The Story of the 106th Infantry Division, Stars & Stripes, Paris, 1944-1945
H. Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, Washington DC, 1965