Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

FRANK W. DENIUS


 
 

30th Infantry Division

"Old Hickory"

Shoulder Patch

 


FRANKLIN W. (FRANK) DENIUS

PATRIOT, Chapter 1919

(U.S. Army, WWII, Europe) Article March 2006

 

Franklin W. Denius spent his early childhood in Athens, Texas where his family lived and where he attended public schools.  As a young teenager, he went off to Schreiner Institute in Kerrville, a military prep school.   He graduated there in 1942 and then enrolled, as a member of the Army Program for 17 year-olds, at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. After two semesters he enlisted in the Army and entered active duty June 3, 1943.  Private Denius, after basic artillery training was assigned to the 30th Infantry Division.

 

After training at various camps, the 30th Infantry Division moved to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts; sailed from the Port of Embarkation in Boston harbor on February 11, 1944, and arrived in England on February 22nd, three months before the invasion landings in Normandy.

 

Frank Denius was a Fire Control Instrument Operator assigned to a Forward Observer party in Battery C of the division’s 230th Field Artillery Battalion.  The 230th Artillery was the first element of the division to be committed in the invasion.  The battalion was called ashore to Omaha Beach, landed on D+1, June 7th, and immediately went into action providing fire support for the 29th Infantry Division that had made the initial assault landing against very heavy opposition the day prior.

 

Six days later, Frank’s unit was back with the 30th Infantry Division providing fire support for the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment. From then until the end of the war, the 30th Infantry Division would be involved in consecutive key engagements including operations on the Vire River, the St.-LO breakthrough, the famous stand at Mortain, the assault on the Seigfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, the reduction and occupation of Magdeburg on the Elbe River; and finally, the meeting of the Russian Army at the Elbe. Frank Denius was there in all those places, but; that is leaping ahead of the story.

 

Forward observers move with the frontline infantry and, in order to adjust artillery fire on the enemy, position themselves where they, likewise, are exposed to observation by the enemy.  They must be on high ground or sometimes, in order to do the job right, forward of their own troops; perhaps needless to say, but it is very dangerous work. On July 17, 1944, when Frank’s Forward Observer party was operating forward of the lines, the officer in charge was killed by enemy machine gun fire.  While still subject to enemy fire and at great risk to his own life, nineteen year-old Private First Class Denius took over and called for, observed, and adjusted artillery fire that was essential to the advancing infantry in accomplishing the mission. He would later receive the Silver Star for his actions that day, and he would also be promoted to Corporal and made Chief of Detail in charge of his Forward Observer party.

 

By July 24th, a tremendous Allied force had been moved across the channel from England, but, still confined to limited space in Normandy, was poised near St.-LO for the beginning of  “Operation Cobra,” the breakout across France.  The 230th Artillery Battalion was among hundreds of units that were coiled up along the axis of advance just behind the front lines.  Lieutenant General Leslie J. McNair, Commander, United States Ground Forces, had come forward to observe the start of the operation and he was in the area of the 119th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division when Heavy Bombers came over to deliver a preparatory strike against the German defenses.  Many of the bombs fell short and more than 800 Americans were killed or wounded.  Among the dead was General McNair, the highest ranking Allied Officer killed in WWII.  Frank says, “I was only 75 yards from General McNair when he was killed.

 

In Normandy two weeks later, Frank Denius was again supporting the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry when they moved into position at Mortain on August 6th.  Before they had time to settle in, early next day, the Germans launched a massive counteroffensive with 70,000 troops, determined to reach the sea and divide the Allied armies. Their attack started by sweeping west through and past Mortain towards Avranches and the coast.

 

Hill 314 (some sources identify it as Hill 317) was the dominant terrain in the area and it lay astride the two main roads leading west out of Mortain.  Most of the infantry battalion not already positioned on Hill 314 quickly withdrew there or else were overrun, killed or captured. The battalion commander, executive officer and most of the staff were captured after the battalion headquarters, which had been located in the town, had been cut off and they were unable to reach the hill, but; a total of about 700 men of the battalion and its attached units gathered there and consolidated their defense of Hill 314.

 

For the next six days they would be cut off, surrounded, and repeatedly attacked until they were out of ammunition and nearly defenseless, except for one thing.  From their vantage point the observers, Frank Denius among them could call fire missions wherever they could see the enemy and they could see from horizon to horizon. They dealt terrible destruction on the Germans and the counterattack to the sea failed because of it.  Late on August 10th, the Americans on the hill received an airdrop of supplies relieving the critical shortage of ammunition and rations.  However, they were out of medical supplies and the untreated wounded were dying as a result.  In one of the most unusual happenings of the war, the 230th Artillery emptied some of their base ejection projectiles and filled them with bandages, dressings, sulfanilamide and morphine syrettes.  On the evening of August 10th and again on August 11th, Frank Denius directed the shelling of his own position with the medical supply-filled rounds.  At least some of the projectiles were recovered with serviceable contents intact, and those supplies were critically needed.  Late in the morning of August 12th, other 30th Infantry Division units reached Hill 314 and relieved the 376 survivors that were still able to walk away from the hill.  One of those survivors was Frank Denius, who afterwards was decorated with a second award (first oak leaf cluster) of the Silver Star with a citation that reads in part: Sergeant Denius and his small group ……directed artillery fire from their vulnerable post (at one point) for seventy-two hours without rest…… despite intense……direct fire from tanks, and artillery and small arms fire directed on their position……by paratroopers, considerable armor, and large infantry forces ……which was a contributing factor in (the defeat of) the German effort.

 

In later combat, when the 30th Infantry Division was fighting in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, his Forward Observer party was again supporting the infantry battalion.  On December 22, 1944 they found themselves in the path of a German panzer attack.  Their artillery observation post was discovered by the enemy and taken under fire by German tanks.  Despite the fire that began to fall all around him, Sergeant Denius refused to withdraw from the post and continued “rendering artillery support” until the attack had been repulsed.  For this action, Staff Sergeant Franklin W. Denius later received his third award (second oak leaf cluster) of the Silver Star.  He was still a teenager at the time.

 

Frank was wounded during the fighting in Normandy, wounded again during the Battle of the Bulge; and, was awarded his second Purple Heart in February 1945.  After serving with his unit in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe Campaigns, through to the end of the war in Europe; Frank Denius returned home with the 30th Infantry Division.  He arrived in the United States on August 25, 1945 and proceeded home to Texas where he was discharged in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston on October 2nd.  A fourth Silver Star was awarded to Frank after the war was over in 1945.

 

After leaving the Army he enrolled at the University of Texas and he has made his home in Austin ever since.  Frank graduated in 1949 and that was a big year for him.  He earned degrees in both business and law, was admitted to the State Bar of Texas, went to work for the Austin law firm of Looney, Clark and Moorhead, and became a Director in the Cain Foundation (established by his uncle, Wofford Cain, a 1913 Texas A&M graduate and former A&M regent).  That year too, he married Charmaine Hooper, who was also from an Athens, Texas family.

 

After nearly 30 years with the law firm, he left it to go into private practice, where he specialized in representing utility and oil and gas companies before the Texas Railroad Commission.  Currently, he continues to practice law, he serves as Director of the Southern Union Company and of JPMorgan/Chase Bank), and he is President of the Cain Foundation. In his decades of service, he has chaired or served as counsel, or in other leadership positions on many committees, councils and boards of corporations, of the city and state government, and of the University of Texas and Texas A&M University; all of which institutions he served with intense devotion.  But, nowhere is his personal involvement more apparent than it is with University of Texas Football.  He goes to all the home games and most of the away games.  He faithfully attends all the football practices as well and that once prompted Coach Mack Brown to say, “He’s made more practices than I have.”  And, his Cain Foundation donations have funded three practice fields at the University that bear his name, but, that is just part of it.  The foundation has also provided major funding for numerous other programs at the university as well. The fine arts, photojournalism, Normandy Scholars Programs, and the expansion of the alumni center, are just a few examples.  Not to neglect Wofford Cain’s alma mater, under Denius’ leadership, the Cain Foundation has also given generously to Texas A&M University, having funded athletic facilities, several endowed chairs, and the annual Boot and Saber Awards for the ROTC program.

 

Frank is a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 1919 and he was our featured speaker for the January 2003 chapter meeting.  Frank and Charmaine Denius have two children, Frank Wofford Denius and Charmaine Denius McGill, and three grandchildren.

 


Local Newspaper Article Detailed Some of Frank Denius' Tour

The Silver Star

Recent Award From the 30th Infantry Division

Recent Photo on Denius Field

Frank Denius LIVES UT Football

 

Read MACK BROWN TEXAS FOOTBALL Salute to Patriot Frank Denius

 


Top Photo

 

Franklin W. Denius

 

Private, 1943


Back To Index