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Abbot, William.jpeg

A sign telling the Germans they are surrounded and should give up. This picture of the 83rd was taken in July of 1944 as they were clearing the hedgerows in the Isgney area. Pvt. Abbot is standing in the back. 


Branch of Service: Army

Rank: Private, first class

Service years: 1943-1944

Honors earned: Purple Heart

Glen Rock: 1924 born in Glen Rock, NJ went to Glen Rock schools, graduated June 1943 Ridgewood High School

William ‘Billy’ Purcell Abbot grew up in Glen Rock on Van Allen Road. He and his family were members of All Saints Episcopal Church. He was very involved in the youth ministries there. He was a member of Boy Scout Troop 17 and attended Central School, Glen Rock Middle, then went to Lawrenceville Academy, returning to graduate from Ridgewood High School in 1943. He was an active member of many clubs and activities including basketball, bowling, the senior play ticket committee, and the booster club, and was homeroom president his senior year.

As soon as he graduated high school, he entered the service in July of 1943. He was stationed at Fort Riley for training in armored recognizance, in the mechanized cavalry, and then Fort Meade before going overseas in February of 1944 as part of the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion “Spearhead.” This was attached to the first US Infantry Division. The 83rd was put into action in a part of the Normandy Liberation fight called "the hedgerows."  Hedgerows were tall earthen embankments with thick bushes on top, found all along the coast of Normandy.  They flanked every ancient road and field.  Built in the Middle Ages, French farmers used them to fence off their land and control irrigation.  They caused the American infantry (GI= General Infantry) some serious frustration because they were so difficult to fight through.  The Yanks had to come up with creative ways to weed out the Germans who were hiding behind these damnable earthen works.  The poor GIs couldn’t see over the top so they never knew who or what was hiding on the other side.  The hedges at the top of the earthen walls were so thick that they couldn’t crash through them and so tall you couldn’t jump over them. If the Americans tried to hack away at the bushes they of course, announced their presence to the Nazi soldiers on the other side. Tanks were hemmed in on this type of geography too.  The embankments were too steep for the Sherman tanks to charge over.  At first, the tankers tried to blow their way through.  They would slam the barrel of their cannon deep into the earthen wall and then they would back up, soldiers on the outside would place a charge in the hole and blow a space large enough for the tank to crash through.  They would then have to fight the German Wehrmacht machine gunners (German Army) they found in the fields. It took 17 tons of explosives for each tank company to move a mile and a half.  The infantry soon recognized that this was a ridiculous use of resources when they were so short on ports.  They had to find a new means to conquer this terrain quickly. The US soldiers on the ground used their ingenuity and devised their own solutions.  Can do that, creative warriors hatched the idea of welding old plows and bulldozer scoops they found in the barns of this part of France onto the front of the Shermans (earning the knick-name- Rhino tanks), then a quick-witted private rigged up a plug-in microphone system so the infantry on the outside could efficiently communicate with the guys inside the “tin cans.” Once they broke through into the fields, the firefights with the Germans took place on even footing.  American soldiers grew to love the cows of Normandy during those long summer months in the hedgerows.  Every time they saw the sweet bovines munching on their cud in the grass, the soldiers knew that the field was mine-free.  The Americans fought in the “Norman Bocage.” for the entire month of July in 1944.  Abbot's 83rd Division incurred more casualties and received more replacements in its short combat career than any other U.S. unit in Normandy in a comparable span of time (July 1944). The loss of trained leaders and men in the combat echelons and their replacement by the large influx of relatively untrained personnel had diminished the division’s efficiency. These are the experiences William P. Abbot endured.

     William P. Abbott was declared dead 1-2 months after he was declared missing in action. Abbott did, however, have a life insurance claim of $10,000 that would be given to the Abbott family in the case that William Abbott does become a casualty of the war. The only issue with Abbott’s possible death is that the insurance claim cannot be made if the death was connected with aviation. By obtaining a certificate of death and confirmation that the death was not connected with aviation. This was a very difficult task for the Abbott family. Through multiple letters between the Abbotts, the Adjutant General, Representative in Congress J. Parnell Thomas, and other parties, Harry and Helen Abbott searched for information regarding their son’s death. The letters sent included requests for information about William’s death and also where William’s body was located in terms of cemetery and plot number.

     On October 17th, 1944, one and a half months after William P. Abbott was declared missing in action, the death record that states that William P. Abbott’s death was not connected with aviation was sent to the claim department. This was a crucial step that was needed for the Abbotts to receive their money. Fast forward a month later and the Abbotts still have not received the life insurance despite having William’s declared death stating that his death was not associated with aviation. Along with the lack of payment, the Abbots still have not received information regarding how William died and where he was buried.

      A month after William P. Abbotts’ declaration of death, on November 14th, 1944, Edward F. Witsell sent the Prospect Park National Bank Abbotts’ certificate of death. After this, the Abbott family finally received William’s life insurance from The Travelers Insurance Company.

     However, the Abbotts still had no information on how William died and where he was buried. On December 5th, 1944, Chaplain Everett Phillips sent a letter to Harry Abbott. The letter was meant to console Mr. and Mrs. Abbott by saying that “Bill” did his work well and although he was with his unit for only a short time, he had proven himself as a soldier. Also within the letter was the statement that Bill died without any suffering. 

     Finally though, half a year later, the Abbott’s received another letter from the Chaplain stating that William P. Abbott was shot in the head and in the chest by small arms fire while on guard duty and that he died instantly without pain or suffering. In addition to that letter, the Abbotts received another letter from the Office of the Quarter Master General that stated that William P. Abbot was buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Goron, France. All Saints dedicated a chancel rail in his memory. 


Born: 1924, Glen Rock, NJ

Died: 1944, Rennes, France

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