Willard H. Blevens Sr. was born in West Jefferson, North Carolina to a family of farmers. He later moved to Jarrettsville, North Carolina where he attended high school, graduating in 1942. That same year, Willard was drafted into the United States Army. He served in the European theater as a squad leader with the 357th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division of General Patton’s 3rd Army. Nicknamed the “Tough ‘Ombres,” Willard and the 357th Infantry Regiment participated in some of the most infamous battles of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day Invasions.
Willard’s service in Europe began in March 1944, when he and the 357th Infantry Regiment boarded the QSMV Dominion Monarch troop transport ship bound for Liverpool, England. On June 10, 1944, four days after the initial D-Day landings, Willard and the 357th Infantry Regiment crossed the English Channel to join elements of the 90th Infantry Division in France.
Soon after arriving, Willard and his regiment were tasked with taking the town of Pont-l’Abbé from German forces. During the battle for Pont-l’Abbé, Willard was struck by shrapnel from enemy artillery fire. After recovering from his injuries, Willard was able to regroup with his men at the front line and continued to serve with the 357th.
By December 1944, Willard and the 357th Infantry Regiment reached the Saar River. There, they were tasked with taking the French-German border town of Saarlautern. For several days they engaged in bitter house-to-house combat, successfully clearing the town of German forces.
On Dec. 16, German forces began their last major offensive operation in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. For several weeks, Willard and the 357th Infantry Regiment held out against the desperate German counteroffensive. The success of the 357th and other Allied forces during the battle became a pivotal moment in World War II, marking the end of Germany’s capacity to effectively wage war. Later in life, Willard did not often speak of his experiences during the battle, remarking only that it was “very, very cold.”
By March 1945, Willard and the 357th made their way into Germany and up to the Rhine River. On their approach to the Rhine, they were attacked by German forces. After being engaged by the enemy, Willard and several other members of his regiment took up a defensive position in a nearby building. There, he and his fellow soldiers were struck by a German rocket launcher.
Having been severely wounded in the attack, Willard was taken out of service and sent to the military hospital at Fort Story, Virginia. On May 8, 1945, while recovering at Fort Story, Willard received news that Germany had surrendered, marking the Allied victory in Europe.
Willard was discharged in October 1945 at the rank of staff sergeant and returned to his home in Hartford County. For actions during his service, Willard was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism and the Combat Infantryman Badge for participating in active ground combat. Willard also received two Purple Hearts in recognition of injuries sustained while engaged in enemy combat.
After completing his service, Willard began working for the Hopkins Motor Company Auto Shop in Bel Air, North Carolina. He eventually started his own auto shop, Vale Body & Fender Shop, which he ran until retiring in 2015 at the age of 92. Throughout his life, Willard remained an avid baseball fan, coaching his children’s teams and serving as president of the local little league association.
On Jan. 27, 2019, Willard passed away at his home in Fallston, North Carolina at the age of 95.
We honor his service.
Graphic by Emma Catlett
Emma is a sophomore at Baylor University and is studying Political Science with a French minor and Pre-Law concentration.