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  • Jack Bowerman

In Memory of Our Most Decorated World War II Soldier

OMAR R. “BUD” BILLETT 1922-1945

Mabee Memorial Hall was built in 1948 and renovated in 1995 and is dedicated to the memory of Baker students who lost their lives during World War Two. There is a plaque in the Hall listing the names of those who were lost. The first name on the list, which is alphabetical, is Omar R. Billett (his first name is actually misspelled “Omer” on the plaque). Billett is one of the most decorated soldiers on the list and his story includes his involvement in some of the most famous battles of the war. But let’s start at the beginning.

Omar Ross “Bud” Billett was born August 1, 1922 to Earl and Mable Croyle Billett at Homewood, Franklin County, Kansas. Omar’s father was a bank clerk/cashier and later an agent for Standard Oil. Sometime in the early 1930’s, the family moved to Council Grove, Kansas. Both Omar’s father and mother were prominent citizens there. Omar was a well-rounded student at Council Grove High School. He participated in athletics from his freshman year through his senior year, quarterbacking the football team, starting at forward in basketball, playing tennis and running track. He was also involved in the Hi-Y (a club affiliated with the YMCA), the Orchestra, the Drama group, and the Chorus, and participated in the annual Operetta and the annual Variety show. Omar graduated in the spring of 1939.

Omar Billett from the 1939 Council Grove High School yearbook

Omar started at Baker in the fall of 1939 and joined Zeta Chi fraternity. Not much is known about his time at Baker except for three references to his participation on the track team from the Council Grove Republican newspapers:

  • March 30, 1940. “PLACED IN MEET. Omar Billett, son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Billett of this city, placed in the pole vault yesterday in a dual meet in which Baker University defeated Washburn 100 to 30.”

  • April 19, 1940. “BILLETT IS THIRD. Omar Billett, son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Billett of this city placed third in the pole vault event for Baker University in its dual meet yesterday with the College of Emporia. The winning height in that competition was 11 feet 3 inches.”

  • May 1, 1940. “BILLETT WINS POLE VAULT. Omar Billett, former Council Grove star athlete, was winner in the pole vault in a dual meet between Baker University and Haskell Institute. Billett is a freshman at Baker this year and graduated from the local high school in last year’s class. He was a three-sport athlete here, lettering several times in football, basketball and track.”

Clearly, Omar was on his way to be a standout athlete at Baker.

Omar stayed at Baker only one year. On December 23, 1940, he enlisted in the National Guard a year before the United States declared war on the Axis powers. The National Guard of the United States, as distinct from the state level National Guard, was a branch of the Regular Army and could be called into federal service whenever Congress declared a national emergency. In August 1940, the President ordered the National Guard of the United States into active service. Between September 1940 and October 1941, the President federalized 300,000 National Guardsmen which doubled the size of the Army at the time. This gave the Army a source of trained soldiers as well as leaders as some 75,000 National Guardsmen eventually became officers through officer candidate school or field commissions. But what prompted him to postpone his promising college career and enlist before we were at war? Perhaps he was influenced by his high school principal, C. W. O’Bryant, who at the time Omar was inducted was a captain in the National Guard.

Omar entered the service as an enlisted man in the infantry and received his basic and advanced training at Camp Robinson, North Little Rock, Arkansas. In April 1941, he was a part of a group of men from Council Grove who participated in maneuvers in front of a crowd of onlookers in a sham battle against an imaginary enemy. He had already achieved the rank of sergeant. From the Council Grove newspaper:

  • “COMPANY C IN A MOCK BATTLE. Twelve Local Trainees Joined In Army Day Assaults at Camp Robinson For Visitors – Sgt. F. C. Camren Showed Field Cookery. In the mock battle conducted at Camp Robinson this week, Company C was represented by twelve men selected from the personnel by Lieut. Henry White. The 35th Division contributed a force of 900 men for this sham battle on Army Day which attracted thousands of visitors who watched the details deploy form atop a hill. Company C lads in the battle were Sgts. Omar Billett and Clarence Boston, Corpals. Michael Metzger, Selvin shields, Pvts. Floyd Kaechele, Pat DeSpain and Irvin Galloway of Council Grove; Corp. Frank Ziebell and Pvts. Marlon Havel, Marvin Stickbine and Dwight Sullivan of Heerington; and Alvin Thomas of White City. These men were part of a reserve company in an attack that carried out a successful flank movement by crossing a lake in boats to reach an imaginary enemy. Staff Sergeant Fred Camren of Co C took part in the demonstration by showing visitors how army cooks provided chow for men in the field. Visitors were given an exhibition of firepower from various weapons using tracer bullets. An air show featured every type of fighting craft used by the army. A parade that opened the mock engagements was two miles long.

Omar went through officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was mentioned briefly in the Council Grove Republican during this time:

  • “Lt. Omar Billet will leave for his station in Ft. Benning, Ga tomorrow after spending a ten-day furlough here with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Billett”

Omar joined the Tenth Armored Division which was activated at Fort Benning July 15, 1942. The Tenth was nicknamed the “Tigers” after a division-wide contest held while it was training in the United States and they also adopted the motto “Terrify and Destroy.” The Division trained for two long years in the pine woods and sand hills of the Peach State, first at Fort Benning and later at Camp Gordon, and they jokingly dubbed themselves the "Georgia State Guard." Sometime during his years in the military, Omar acquired the nickname “Bud,” and by the time the Division was ready to go to war he was a captain. On August 21, 1944, the division was on a train bound for the New York Port of Embarkation at Camp Shanks, New York and on September 13, 1944 they boarded a ship headed overseas. September 23, 1944, they arrived at Cherbourg, France and entered the European theater of operations.

Omar commanded Company B, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion of the Tenth Armored Division and became a part of Patton’s Third Army. The Division had a large number of tanks, but it became evident during the early stages of the war the tanks needed to be supported by a significant number of infantry and so the concept of armored infantry was born. Armored infantry had to be able to move as fast as the tanks, so the infantry soldiers were carried into battle in lightly armored halftracks. The Division also included artillery and supporting units. The Division put in a month of training at Teurtheville, France. On October 25 the Division moved to Mars-la-Tour, where it entered combat on November 2 in support of the XX Corps, containing enemy troops in the area.

During Omar’s time with the Tenth, he was a part of four major battles:

  • The Capture of Metz. Metz was a major fortress city in France near the German border. When the Germans took Metz in 1940, they annexed Metz which they considered a German city because of its large German population. After the war it was returned to France.

  • Battle of the Bulge. In late 1944, the Germans launched a major offensive to try and halt the Allied advance and to clear the way for the Germans to retake Antwerp. The Germans surrounded Bastogne, Belgium where the Tenth Armored Division held out for several days and then assisted the 101st Airborne Division in holding Bastogne for another several weeks until reinforcements arrived to turn the tide of the battle.

  • The Assault on the Saar-Moselle Triangle. The Saar-Moselle Triangle is bordered on the west by the Moselle River, on the east by the Saar river and on the south by the east-west adjunct of the Siegfried Line. During World War 2, the Triangle was one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world and it protected the oldest city in Germany, Trier.

  • The Crossing of the Rhine. By the time the Allied troops Trier they were rolling rapidly through Germany and the German defense was disintegrating. Nonetheless, the crossing of the Rhine had major symbolic importance and signaled the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.

In 1954, Lester M. Nichols published a book entitled: “Impact: The Battle Story of the Tenth Armored Division” which details the actions that took place during the war. Omar is mentioned frequently in the book and what follows is a description of the role he played in these actions.

The Tenth’s assignment in the battle of Metz was to move north to try and envelope the city and cut off supplies and capture fleeing German soldiers. This required moving into Germany and the Tenth was the first Third Army division to enter Germany. Omar played a significant role in this action as described by H. V. Kaltenborn, a distinguished news commentator for NBC in a report from the front:

  • A SUCCESSFUL ACTION. “Just before I arrived at the front, the German village of Bethingen had been captured. This was a small action. Its purpose was to give an infantry company its first taste of offensive warfare under conditions that would make a tactical success almost certain. When a unit has never experienced active warfare, it is highly important that it should taste success the first time it goes into battle. So, whenever possible, the wise commander plans the first action so carefully and so completely that it is almost sure to succeed. The officer (Colonel William L. Roberts, Combat Command B) who prepared the capture of Bethingen took the trouble to explain it to me in full detail. He worked it out as a highly coordinated operation. There was minute planning of the use of artillery and mortars and smoke to blind the enemy. From the beginning we had superior observation. All our men had been well trained for their specific tasks. They had excellent leaders. The entire action (executed by Company B, 20thArmored Infantry Battalion, commanded by Captain “Bud” Billett) went off exactly on schedule as if it had been a carefully prepared maneuver. We captured the town, we eliminated an enemy’s observation post, we took 38 prisoners. We inflicted considerable losses in killed and wounded on the enemy and the entire operation cost us only one man killed and two wounded. But from the commanding officer’s point of view, the most important result was the heightened fighting morale of an infantry unit which had earned its spurs.”

The attack on Metz was commenced on November 3, 1944 and the city was completely liberated on November 22.

Captain"Bud" Billett, third from left, poses with his platoon leaders of Company B, 20th Armored Infantry near Metz

During this time the Council Grove Republican picked up this story: December 5, 1944.

  • “In Germany, the paper shortage is so acute that the front-line Yanks can find little to write home on except Nazi propaganda placards. Omar Billett has written a letter to his father, E. R. Billett, on the backs of these posters, which measure about 11x14. He has even translated the Nazi slogans, which exhort the populace to greater superhuman efforts and fill them to the ears with applesauce about the German ”will to win.””

On December 16, 1944 the Germans launched a major offensive that was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor. On December 18, 1944 Colonel William L. Robert’s Combat Command B (a part of the Tenth Armored Division) were sent North to the Belgian town of Bastogne. At that time, while no one could foresee what was to happen there in the weeks to come, it was clear that the town was of strategic importance because it was a crossroads protecting the key routes leading to the port city of Antwerp. Upon arrival, Roberts was directed to split his command in to three teams, each protecting a major route into the city.

  • Team Desobry, commanded by Major W. R. Desobry, was sent to Noville a town northeast of Bastogne.

  • Team Cherry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H. T. Cherry, was sent to Longvilly, a town east of Bastogne.

  • Team O’Hara, commended by Lieutenant Colonel James O’Hara, was sent to Bras a town southeast of Bastogne.

Captain “Bud” Billett’s Company B was a part of Team Desobry in Noville. The assignment for all the teams was to block and hold the roadways while the 101st Airborne was taking up positions inside Bastogne. By midnight on the 18th all the teams were in position. The team at Noville were the first to be attacked in the early morning hours of the 19th. As the battle continued a fog rolled in making it impossible to see the enemy who continued to lob shells into the town. A description of what happened next from the Nichols ‘ book

  • “Suddenly the fog lifted. At that moment the Noville garrison saw before it a terrifying spectacle. On every flank except the rear, German tanks were pushing toward Noville. Before them was an entire German armored division! Too busy to give up in the face of these fantastic odds, Major Deobry, Captain “Bud” Billett, Captain Geiger and the other Tiger commanders plotted to stop the relentless enemy.”

The battle raged on for two days as enemy tanks kept attacking only to be driven back. The Germans had the high ground on the ridges around Noville. Outnumbered ten to one, Major Desobry asked Colonel Roberts for permission to withdraw to Bastogne but was told to stay put. After nightfall on the 19th Desobry’s command post was hit and he was wounded. He was taken back to a field hospital which was then overrun by the Germans and Desobry was taken prisoner. Major Charles L. Husted took command of the 10th Armored defenders at Noville. The next day Husted was given permission to withdraw to the higher ground at Foy, a village between Noville and Bastogne. The Noville force was almost completely surrounded and they had to fight their way out. From the Nichols’ book:

  • “At this juncture two groups were organized. One was commanded by Major Hustead and the other by Captain Billett. These forces, in enveloping movements, propelled themselves into Foy and methodically eradicated the enemy there to permit the remainder of the column to move . . . Assisting the Noville units at Foy was Battery B of the 796th Anti-Aircraft Artillery. . . the Billett-Hustead forces pushed to Foy and utilized the crack anti-aircraft battery to good advantage in kicking the Germans out of that place so that the remainder of Team Hustead was able to breakout of Noville.”

On December 21st, the Husted team along with all the other Tenth Armored teams that had defended the perimeter of Bastogne were directed to withdraw to Bastogne and form a mobile reserve to support the 101st Airborne which was now dug in in the city. On December 22 The German commander issued his famous ultimatum demanding that the U.S troop surrender the encircled city. The American commander, General Anthony McAufliffe had a one-word reply “Nuts”. On December 26, reinforcements arrived, and the tide of the battle began to turn in favor of the Allies. The fighting continued for another three weeks, but on January 16, Colonel Roberts Combat Command B, including Captain “Bud” Billett’s Company B were able to leave Bastogne to rest, regroup and reinforce. The actions of the Tenth Armored in defending Bastogne earned them the nickname “Stone of Bastogne”.

After a month of training, the Tenth Armored Division was ready for its next mission – the attack on the heavily fortified Saar-Moselle Triangle. The Triangle is bounded on the west by the Moselle River, on the east by the Saar River and on the south by the east-west adjunct of the Siegfried Line which was also called the Siegfried Switch. The Tenth Armored’s assignment was to breach the Switch from the south and to drive northeast up into the Triangle. Omar’s Company B was assigned to Task Force Richardson for this action. From Nichol’s book:

  • “Promptly at 0700 on February 20, CCA launched a two-pronged thrust, utilizing Task Force Richardson on the right and Task Force Chamberlain on the left. Moving northeast, Richardson made contact with the Germans on the outskirts of Kirf. Temporarily stopped by minefields, this task force employed its attached engineers to clear a path for continued advance. Once through the fields, the column was hit hard by machine gun fire and assault guns, but this resistance was overcome, and Richardson’s tankers captured Kirf. Then Team Billett was sent cross country of the left of Kirf to sock Meurick. For half an hour “Bud” Billett’s Tigers were stopped by murderous anti-tank fire, which required that he bring his Headquarters Company into position to reply to the enemy. Without further resistance, the town of Meurick capitulated. While this action was taking place, the remainder of Richardson’s forces slammed into Kelson. There they overran and captured the command post of the enemy’s 456th Infantry Regiment and the 256th Volkgrenadier Division and took almost 100 prisoners.”

The next Tenth Armored target was to move north toward Trier, the oldest city in Germany. From Nichol’s book:

  • "Task Force Richardson, in the meantime, had left its position at the crossroads west of Lampden in the early hours of March 1. Leading the column of Tigers was Captain “Bud” Billett. Following him were Team Riley and Headquarters Company. A full moon provided excellent visibility on February 28, as the column raced on to Irsch where an unusual roadblock faced them. Three big 88’s loomed ahead, causing the lead tank to belch two rounds of 75’s at the site. However, by this time, the Germans wanted no part of the Tigers and left the 88’s unmanned. In the village, the German garrison readily surrendered and was put to work dismantling the roadblock which it had erected only a short time before. Off again, the column swung through Olewig and burst right on to the city limits of Trier. A company of German infantry and four anti-tank guns were captured without firing a single round at a railroad crossing within the city limits. It was readily apparent that the Americans were not expected in this area, and fortunately, this factor enabled the Tiger Teams to nab the careless enemy infantry in the nick of time. In addition, one of the prisoners taken confessed that he had neglected to notify a German demolition detail on the far side of the railroad bridge of the Tiger’s arrival. Things were looking up for the attackers as they gained valuable time at the expense of the loafing Germans.

  • When Colonel Richardson entered Trier on March 1, he had already made up his mind to go after the northern bridge first rather than risk having the nearer southern bridge blown upon arrival. Team Billet was designated to stab at the northern bridge. Following was Team Riley whose job it was to try and grab the southern span. “Bud” Billet reported at 0200 that the northern bridge was blown, whereupon Richardson dispatched Team Riley post haste to get the southern bridge. Riley raced on the road along the Moselle, hardly daring to hope that the bridge would still be standing. When he got to the site, he saw that the structure was still intact. Hurriedly, he radioed Richardson, “Bridge intact. Am receiving small arms fire.” Richardson gave quick instructions to Riley, dropped the phone and dashed to the span to direct its capture. He sent a platoon of tanks and a platoon of dismounted doughs led by Lieutenant Wilbur Beadle Jr., speeding across to the western side of the bridge. These hardy Tigers knew that they were trading over momentary death. They expected the structure to blow up in their faces. But death took another holiday, fortunately, and they safely reached the other side where they grabbed a German major and five helpers who, too late, were hurrying with the detonator caps and an exploder. The great 2000-year-old Romer bridge was ours!

The Tenth Armored division had captured the city and taken more than 8,000 prisoners of war. They had moved so rapidly that the Germans referred to the Tenth as the “Ghost Division.”

The next obstacle in front of the Tenth Armored was the mighty Rhine River, gateway into the German heartland, and the race was on to get there. On the way, the Tigers took their first objective, St. Wendel, on March 18. Next, the Tenth captured Kaiserlautern, a key German supply point. The Germans began to panic. They were forced to blow most of the bridges over the Rhine to prevent capture by the Americans and they were trapped. They began racing in retreat toward the only remaining bridges at Speyer and Germesheim. To cut them off, the Tigers headed south, took Neustadt and converged on Landau. In doing so, The Tenth had entered the Seventh Army boundaries and came under the command of General Patch. The Seventh Army was battling the Germans in the city of Mannheim on the Rhine and the Tigers headed north to assist. They rolled across the Rhine on March 28-29.

Another story from the front. Council Grove Republican March 28, 1945.

  • SHOOTS DOWN PLANE WITH MACHINE GUN. “Capt. Omar Billett of this city is credited with shooting down an enemy plane in Germany with a sub-machine gun. Billett commands B Company with the 20th Armored Infantry. He was with his men in foxholes on the western front when the Kraut plane came over strafing and bombing. The Company's 50-calibres opened up and their tracers were quickly lighting up the night sky but none of them found their target. As the plane swerved for the return run, Billett decided to test the firepower of his newly acquired Thompson submachine gun. As the plane roared directly overhead, the Council Grove youth let go – and the plane went down in flames.”

Having crossed the Rhine, the Tenth Armored split into three groups and the Tigers cracked the backbone of the Nazi defenses in the area between the Rhine and the Neckar Rivers. Task Force Richardson and Task Force Chamberlain crushed two shells of enemy resistance to reach their objective 20 miles south of Mannheim and then turned east toward Heilbronn. Somewhere in this vicinity, Omar was wounded. From the Council Grove Republican April 18, 1945:

  • WOUNDED IN ACTION. Capt. Omar Billet, with the 9th Armor at the Elbe, has been seriously wounded on April 2, according to a war department wire to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Billett

There was a lot of misinformation in this account, since we know that Omar was not with the 9thArmor and he was not near the Elbe, but he was seriously wounded and no doubt his parents were extremely concerned.

Then the bad news arrived: From the Council Grove Republican April 20, 1945

  • WOUNDS PROVE FATAL. Another Blue Star Turns to Gold at Council Grove. Capt. Omar Billett, who was seriously wounded in Germany on April 2, succumbed to his injuries three days later, according to a war department wire reaching his parents Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Billett, yesterday afternoon. They had been notified Wednesday of his injuries. Capt. Billett survived the horrors of Bastogne, where his little band of Yanks blocked a sweeping Nazi drive toward Antwerp until reinforcements arrived to crack the abortive enemy attempt. Billett and his doughboys were completely surrounded for three days. It was the determined resistance of this Yank pocket which so materially aided in smashing von Runstedt’s effort to roll back the Allies from their threatened breakthrough. When Capt. Billett lost all his personal equipment, including his clothing, he wrote an appeal to his father to forward him some boots and bars. The bars were obtained from Capt. Sawyer of the Delavan base, who took them off his own shoulders that the insignia might reach Omar quickly. The Council Grove officer was wounded later in Germany. His fatal wounds were received deep on enemy soil, presumably in the advanced Dortmund area. Omar entered the war with Company C going to Camp Robinson and taking officer’s training at Ft. Benning. He did not go overseas until Christmas, landing in France and immediately going into front line action – activity he liked best. All through his athletic career in the local high school Omar was always in the thick of the struggle. In football and basketball, when the going was tough, he could be found battling in the center. He carried that characteristic into German. In the march from France to the Elbe, Capt. Billett lost approximately a dozen lieutenants. Besides his parents, he is survived by one sister, Dorothy.

A tribute from Nichols book:

  • Farther to the south, the task forces of Richardson and Chamberlain careened into one of the enemy’s most powerful divisions, but the resultant fight effectively screened the French First Army crossing of the Rhine south of Speyer, allowing the two allied forces to link up on March 31. Among the many tiger losses was that of Captain “Bud” Billet, popular and capable young, officer, who was killed here.

Omar received five medals for his actions:

  • Purple Heart - Possibility he was injured when his jeep was hit during the Battle of the Bulge

  • Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster – The Oak Leaf Cluster is given after a second injury probably for the fatal wounds he received.

  • Bronze Star – For his actions during the capture of Metz.

  • Silver Star - The Silver Star Medal is the United States Armed Forces' third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. The Silver Star Medal is awarded primarily to members of the United States Armed Forces for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

  • Distinguished Service Cross - The President of the United States of America, authorized by Congress July 9,1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously) to Captain (Infantry) Omar R. Billett (ASN: 0-1287464, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company B, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division, in action against enemy forces on 5 March 1945. Captain Billet’s outstanding leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 10th Armored Division, and the United States Army.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest honor a soldier can receive. Only the Medal of Honor is a higher award.

From the Council Grove Republican:

  • A SILVER STAR FROM CAPT. BILLETT. A silver star has been received by mail by Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Billett, which presumably was awarded to their son, Capt. Omar Billett. No comment came with the medal, which is given only for extreme gallantry in the line of duty. It is assumed here that the citation may have been made for the Council Grove youth’s success in holding a strategic point at Bastogne on December 16 when his unit was surrounded. Capt. Billett lost 107 men and 3 lieutenants in holding out against the German breakthrough. All of his own personal belongings were lost when the Nazis scored a direct hit on his parked jeep. His bronze star was received for valor around Metz.

From the Council Grove Republican November 8, 1945

  • POSTHUMOUS D. S. C. On Armistice Day to Parents of Capt. Omar Billett. A posthumous presentation on Armistice Day of a Distiguished Service Cross to the parents of Capt. Omar Billett will be made next Monday as a part of Armistice observance here. An effort is being made by R. R. Rhodes, commander of the Legion post, to secure an extension of leave for Lt. Colonel C. W. O’Bryant so the former high school principal of the Council Grove officer may make the presentation. O’Bryant was not only the principal at the time Capt. Billett attended high school, but he was captain of the National Guard at the time the DSC winner was inducted into service. Capt. Billett lost his life in France under particularly heroic circumstance, and award of the DSC for his parents, Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Billett, is a deserved tribute to his courage and sacrifice.

Captain Omar R. Billett is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France. Baker University honors his memory with his name on the plaque at Mabee Memorial Hall.

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