Continuing on with excerpts from The Hotton Report.
Sometime after midnight on the 21st of December, the commanding officer and battalion heads of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team arrived at General Ridgway’s headquarters and received orders to report to General Rose in Manhay. “Rose was calm and cool,” Boyle remarked later, which impressed him considering that the reputation of Ridgway “was not one to induce calm.” Rose assigned Boyle’s 1st Battalion to Colonel Howze’s Combat Command Reserve in Soy. Boyle arrived at Howze’s CP (command post) 90 minutes later.
Nicknamed “Wild Bill” by his men for his strict work ethic and readiness to drop rank with anyone who challenged his leadership, Boyle had little use for spit-and-polish discipline. His drumbeat was all about combat reliability, which he understood was the product of rigorous training and mental toughness. In seven months of war, he had asked nothing of his men that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. “Colonel Boyle walked ahead of me a lot of times, and I was the first scout,” one soldier remembered. “That was the kind of guy he was. Brave, very brave.” Howze put the scruffy officer and his battle-hardened troops to work the moment they arrived.
The 1st Battalion pushed off on its’ objective and soon found themselves making no headway against heavy enemy fire from two sides. There was simply too much firepower to his front – machine gun, mortar and tank fire – and the terrain provided too little cover.
“Hold Hotton at all cost”, said Colonel Howze relaying orders from his commanding General, Maurice Rose. “Utilize any available personnel as infantry . . . have tank-infantry Task Force Warden provide maximum support consistent with holding Hotton. Action must be aggressive.”
Bill Boyle’s 1st Battalion of the 517th Regimental Combat Team would later receive a Presidential Unit Citation for its “repeated displays of individual and collective gallantry” while attached to Bobby Howze’s CCR in Soy. My cousin, Gordon Lippman, was the crew served weapons Platoon Leader for Boyle’s battalion. This platoon augmented the rifle companies with mortars, heavy machine guns and other specialized weaponry.
Boyle was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest combat honor, for his extraordinary heroism. Excerpted from his citation: “When, through error brought about by confusion in the situation, troops of a friendly battalion began firing upon men under his command, Lieutenant Colonel Boyle walked boldly in the direction of the intense fire to correct the error. Although fired upon by successive groups as he approached, and unable to protect himself, he continued on his self-assigned task until the entire friendly battalion was cognizant of the location of his troops. Lieutenant Colonel Boyle’s magnificent act of courage undoubtedly saved the lives of many soldiers.” His gallant leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty are who Bill Boyle was. While leading his men in a skirmish with the enemy on January 5, 1945, Boyle was sprayed by a German officer holding his 9-mm machine pistol near Bergeval, Belgium. LTC Boyle spent the next twenty-one months undergoing numerous surgeries to regain the use of his arms. Determined to return to duty as an Airborne commander, he declined a full disability after the war ended, and ultimately recovered to lead a combat battalion in Korea. In 1967, he retired from the Army to begin a second career as an accountant and tax advisor. Colonel Boyle died in upstate New York in 2009.
For more on how Colonel Boyle led his troopers through withering fire and a formidable enemy, you’ll have to read my book, Honor Through Sacrifice. It will be available on my web site, Amazon and in book stores in October of this year.
Next Up: Gordon Lippman in Action