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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.

Abbot died of a gunshot wound at the age of 19 in Rennes, France in August of 1944. Abbot's parents were informed that he was missing in action in September of 1944 and by November the final confirmation of his death on the battlefield reached his family in Glen Rock. All Saints dedicated a chancel rail in his memory. 


Born: 1924, Glen Rock, NJ

Died: 1944, Rennes, France

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