By Con McGrath
Paul Theophane Boyle was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, just a month before the end of the Great War. His father, Thomas Boyle, was a builder in New Castle, just north of Pittsburgh. The Great Depression cost the family their business, their home, and their father’s health. Throughout the early 1930s, the family traveled the country looking for a better life. After a few years on the road, they came back east and sunk roots in Cleveland.
Boyle graduated from James Ford Rhodes High School in 1937 and later went to work at White Motors, a truck manufacturing company in Cleveland. With this experience, Boyle hoped that if he was drafted, he would be a mechanic. But on October 28, 1942, when he reported for duty, Boyle was assigned to the infantry and ordered to report to Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
Camp Atterbury was described in a regimental history as a “clay red scar on the green, hilly Indiana countryside.” The post was hastily constructed in about eight months, transforming a wild forest to a 40,000-soldier facility.
The men went through an abbreviated basic training throughout November and December and spent the cold Midwest winter in “Combined Training,” to prepare them for combat. In the summer of 1943, they traveled to Tennessee to participate in maneuvers under the sweltering summer sun. After maneuvers, they went to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky for some final training before deployment.
The training was barely tolerable, but Boyle put a brave face on it. “Don’t worry about me having it bad because the Irish can take almost anything,” he penned to his mother.
In April 1944, the men of the 331st Regiment boarded a troop ship bound for England. It was a trip of “two weeks that seemed like two months,” a regimental history reported. The men trained in Wales and waited for their orders to head to the continent.
There they remained past the initial invasion, until June 16, when they were moved aboard troop ships. The voyage across the English Channel should have been a few hours, but a massive storm swept up in the Channel that evening. The Liberty ships were stuck at sea; they could not risk going back to port, and they could not approach the Mulberry harbors, which were damaged in the storm. For four days, the ships remained at sea as the men ate their landing rations and fought off seasickness.
It was a stroke of bad luck that foreshadowed the misfortunes the 83rd Division would suffer in its time in combat.
The invasion force was stalling out a few miles inland from the beaches, and Boyle’s unit was ordered to move toward the hedgerow country south of Carentan, France. It was terrain for which neither the men nor their officers were prepared.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own