JILL PITTS KNAPPENBERGER (1918 - )
Jill Pitts was born 11 September 1918 in Evanston, Illinois. She married T. Gaillard Knappenberger in 1953. In November 1943, Jill graduated from the American Red Cross School at American University in Washington DC. She was sent to the European Theatre Operation of World War II in the largest convoy to leave the United States. There she worked in England and then landed on Utah Beach on 31 July 1944 and was assigned to the 8th Corps. They worked through Normandy, Brittany, Brest Peninsula and then to Bastogne, Belgium where they were cut-off during the Battle of the Bulge. Eventually they rejoined their group back in France and moved on with the troops through France and into Germany. She returned to the United States in 1945 and was discharged from the American Red Cross. Jill visited with her twin, Captain John Joseph Pitts III of the US Army in December 1944 just days before his death at the Battle of the Bulge:
"After graduation from the University of Illinois in June, 1941, Mr. Pitts was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army and assigned to training draftees at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina until April, 1944 when he was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division as Captain of Battery A 590th Field Artillery Battalion. He was happy to be relieved of his teaching duties and get active "live" duty. In November, 1944 the 106th was sent to England for a week, then to the Ardennes, east of St. Vith, Belgium and stretched out over a 27 mile front. Normal disbursement for a division is only 3 miles. He arrived in Radscheid, Germany, December 11 or 12, 1944 and through a miraculous series of circumstances, I learned of his arrival that day, and left Bastogne, Belgium, where I had been an American Red Cross Clubmobile operator, with two days leave the 13th and 14th of December, 1944 and jeeped to St. Vith to locate the 590th Headquarters at Schoneberg, Germany. We were warned that the exposed Schneifel Ridge that we had to traverse was receiving much heavy enemy artillery fire and to proceed at our own risk going to the front. It was a very tense "white knuckle" drive and we arrived, unharmed, at the 590th Headquarters. Here, Colonel Lackey called Jack back to the Headquarters - not telling him his twin was there. Jack was completely surprised to see me, knowing only that I was in Belgium someplace and planning to contact me as soon as he had his men and equipment stationed and in order. He took me up front to his battalion and with pride and devotion, escorted me to all his heavy gun positions and introduced his twin sister to all his men. What a thrill it was!! I remember standing by one gun emplacement and looking across a few hundred yards to a tree covered hill, seeing the enemy and asking, "Where is the infantry?" and Jack replied that there was a platoon in back of us on our right and another in back of us on our left. Such was the way the newly arrived 106th Infantry Division was stretched out over a 27 mile front in that "quiet sector" of the Ardennes. We went back to his Battery Headquarters - one of a half dozen or so houses in the small community of Radscheid, Germany. We visited long into the night before retiring. The next morning I returned to Bastogne. On December 15 our crew of three American Red Cross girls made thousands of donuts, cleaned and packed our Clubmobile - a 2 1/2 ton GMC truck converted to a mobile kitchen and recreation center - with supplies, our Christmas gifts and belongings, for a 2 or 3 week assignment with the 106th. Saturday, December 16, as was our custom, we had lunch with Rear Corps Commander Colonel C. B. Warden and G-2 Lieutenant Colonel Kenny Clark. It was one of our crew member's birthday and we planned to meet Jack and celebrate. We left Bastogne about 1pm and headed north and east to go to the 106th. En route we stopped at a small town to get decorations for the Christmas tree we planned for that night's birthday celebration and having Jack join our party. G.I.s there told us we should buy candles as the enemy that morning had started serious "heavy artillery shelling" and had knocked out many of our generators. This was one of Europe's coldest winters. The snow was deep, the skies overcast and the Air Force could not fly because of the severe conditions. We arrived at our destination - much to the shock and surprise of the 106th and immediately learned that we were in deep trouble. We were without communication and surrounded by the enemy. There was no escape. I was given the devastating news that my dearly beloved twin brother, Jack, had been killed that morning while aiding some of his men at a forward gun position - where I had been with him just two days before. I visited his temporary grave at Foy, Belgium after the "Battle of the Bulge" and learned that his death was instantaneous as a German 88mm shell fragment had pierced his helmet and skull. He is now buried in the beautiful American cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg with 5,075 military dead, many of whom gave their lives in the "Battle of the Bulge." General George S. Patton, who was killed after V-E day, is also buried there. Captain Pitts was awarded the Purple Heart."
An interview with Jill Pitts Knappenberger was recorded by the Pacific War Museum in 2011 and digitally archived.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Jill Pitts Knappenberger by Jonathan Black as printed in the University of Illinois alumni magazine in January 2017. Jill Pitts Knappenberger attended Stephens Junior College for Women in Columbia, Missouri before enrolling at the University of Illinois in 1939 after winning a scholarship. Postwar, Knappenberger returned to the University of Illinois to complete her degree and then joined the university’s extension staff. For many years, Knappenberger also served on university-related boards.
My two brothers were in the military; all the young people were 100 percent behind the American forces to get rid of Hitler and the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor. I didn’t want to be a WAAC or a WAVE because I wanted to go overseas, so I joined the Red Cross. I wanted to be a Clubmobile operator.
We were to ship out before Christmas in 1943, but the Germans heard about our convoy leaving New York City, so we got delayed.
Our convoy zigzagged across the Atlantic; it was the largest convoy that had ever left the States. You could look out on deck, and there were ships as far as you could see—battleships, aircraft carriers and a lot of luxury ships like ours that had been converted to troop carriers. It took 10 days for us to get to Scotland. I got my permanent assignment at Glatton Airfield, the largest B-17 bomber base in England.
Our unit would travel in these Green Line buses, which were equipped with doughnut machines and coffee makers. We knew the military was preparing for the D-Day invasion, and we volunteered for that mission. We couldn’t take the Green Line buses to the continent because they only had six inches of ground clearance. Consequently, we traveled to London to take a course on how to drive two-and-a-half-ton, GMC army trucks. We learned how to double clutch, do maintenance, change 55-pound tires. Of the 1,000 people who took the course, only two got a superior rating, and I was one.
In May 1944, the Germans started sending over the V1 and V2 rockets - the “buzz bombs.” So long as you could hear them, you were alright. But when their engines shut off, they dropped immediately - and they were very deadly. I managed to lose 10 pounds in that time because of nervous tension.
Our unit landed on Utah Beach during the last week of July. We were attached to the Eighth Corps, Third Army, and moved with them through Normandy and Brittany. I didn’t feel I was really in danger until Dec. 16 - then we knew we had a problem. That was the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. One of my brothers was killed that day by an 88-mm German shell. One of the hardest things I had to cope with was when they told me I couldn’t write or inform my folks about what had happened.
We were cut off and surrounded. The weather was very cold, 10 to 20 degrees below zero; there were high winds and heavy snow. Everyone had frozen hands, faces or feet. Finally, the 101st Airborne came in and escorted us out.
We were driving along with a Jeep carrying a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a captain. It was dark and they crashed into the back of an Army truck hauling ammunition, so we transported them in our Clubmobile. Of course, I did all the driving. I could do it and liked it. We zigzagged randomly out of Germany. Eventually, we found our group in Charleville, France.