Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

BILL KERR
1919 - 2004

 

1st Armored Division patch


BILL KERR

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY, WWII, North Africa, Europe) Article July 1996

After the fighting in North Africa, Bill Kerr’s hometown newspaper in Missouri carried a feature article announcing his award of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. Here are some excerpts (in italics) of that news clipping.  Following that is Bill’s personal story about an almost amusing instance of Field Artillery being used in an Air Defense role.

“…Blond Billy Kerr, who went from the University of Missouri into the Army and now wears three ribbons on his khaki shirt…was decorated for extraordinary gallantry (in an action)  February 15, 1943 at Sidi Bou Zid when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel staged his big tank smash against the American front:  “As forward artillery observer, Lieutenant Kerr accompanied a tank battalion in an attack.  The battalion was shelled heavily but his accurate information enabled our guns to silence the enemy battery.  Completely disregarding his safety, he observed from a turret.  His tank was set afire by a shell and had to be evacuated, but Kerr remained under shellfire and helped extinguish the blaze.  He then threw smoke grenades to create the impression that the tank was still burning and used it as a stationary observation post.  His tank received many hits and he was painfully wounded but he removed valuable equipment, destroyed the tank and led the crew through the enemy line to safety… 

Into Action Again...on February 25th, in the Kasserine Pass area, he won the Silver Star for gallantry in an incident officially described as follows:  “While he was acting as a forward observer, Kerr’s vehicle ran over an mine and he was severely injured.  His first concern was for his men, and he administered first aid to one wounded man.  He dismounted a radio and, under enemy fire, climbed a hill to an observation post, where he continued to observe the enemy fire.  He reported the situation by radio, help arriving two hours later.  He refused treatment until the wounded soldier was cared for and then collapsed from exhaustion and shock.” 

Bill Kerr related a very unusual incident that had occurred in North Africa before the combat actions described above.  

The 1st Armored Division Artillery disembarked in the Port of Oran in November 1942, shortly after the successful assault landings in North Africa and Bill Kerr was with them, in Battery A, 68th Field Artillery Battalion.  By January 1943, the battery of six half track-mounted 105mm guns, commanded by Captain Ed Burba, was deployed in the northern edge of the desert as part of the U.S. Forces that were moving west against Rommel's Afrika Korps towards an eventual link-up with the famed British 8th Army.

Bill says, “At that time we had no Anti-Aircraft units and no Air Force fighter protection. The Germans had air superiority and they were sending bombing strikes against us every two hours, regular as clockwork, throughout the daylight hours, totally unopposed. There was a flight of STUKA dive bombers that always came into our area and circled slowly over one particular point on every mission before heading out towards whatever their target was for that particular strike. The dive bombers rarely bothered us and even when they did there was plenty of time to get under cover because the STUKA was quite a slow aircraft, even for that time. However, their regular pattern caught the attention of Capt Burba because the point where they circled was well within our range. So, we computed the altitude where the planes had been circling, estimated their speed, determined gun data, and then pre-set the time fuses on three shells for each of the six guns. We would be ready for them next time. The STUKAs came again and started circling. The battery fired three volleys in quick succession. Shells burst among the circling planes, all with no visible effect, at least none were shot down. It was very obvious to the German pilots where the shells had come from and they immediately gave us their full attention. Before they left they had damaged two of our guns and knocked out a third gun that remained out of action for some time.  Needless to say, we didn’t try that again.” 

In bitter fighting in the mountainous area in the vicinity of Kasserine Pass less than two months later, Bill Kerr would receive multiple awards of the Purple Heart and multiple awards for valor. His 68th Field Artillery Battalion was in action throughout the war and they were in Northern Italy when the fighting finally ended, but they never again attempted to engage enemy aircraft in flight and never heard about any other Field Artillery unit doing so either. Capt Ed Burba went on to serve a distinguished career in the Field Artillery, enjoyed the respect of those with whom he served, and finally retired as a Major General (now deceased).

 

Bill H. Kerr provided his Purple Heart story and this "STUKA" story for publication in the July 1996 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.  Bill passed away in May 2004.


Bill Kerr and Purple Santa at the Christmas Party 2003
Read About the Battle at Sidi Bou Sid where Bill Kerr won his Distinguished Service Cross

Back To Index