Durkin, Maurice J. (644th)

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Biography: Maurice Jerome Durkin was born on November 9, 1920, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Thomas Michael Durkin and Catherine Teresa Crowley and attended the Jacobs School and later graduated from North Catholic High School. 

He then worked for his father at Thomas M. Durkin, which was a general contractor company owned by his father. At the time Maurice filled out his draft registration card, they were working at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. In addition to Maurice, his brothers Tom and Joe were also working with their dad. As the War progressed the Durkin Company was later sent to the Millville Army Air Field in New Jersey to extend the airfield for the possible defense of the east coast.

Maurice had two other brothers, John and Donald. John served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot and later as a trainer serving with the 370 First Army Air Force Base Unit in Amarillo, Texas. Donald was younger and still in High School during the war.  

Service Time: Maurice entered the service on December 21, 1942, at Philadelphia, PA. After his basic training, he was assigned to Company C of the 644th Tank Destroyer battalion.  

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The photo above left is Maurice on leave with his girlfriend Francis on May 16, 1943. On the right, Maurice is shown with his father.

Letter Home to brother Tom – September 13, 1943

The battalion trained at a number of military facilities within the U.S. including Camp Claibourne, Louisiana, Fort Lewis, Washington and Camp Hood, Texas, before moving to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to undergo final preparations before shipping overseas. On January 2, 1944, they left the New York port and arrived at Gourock, Scotland on January 11th. After six months of additional training, they boarded transports and landed at Utah Beach on July 11th and 12th, equipped with M10 tank destroyers.

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The two photos above were taken while the unit was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.

The 644th was committed to battle south of Le Haye Du Puits with the 8th Infantry Division on July 15th, participating in the Cobra breakout beginning on July 26th. Advancing into Brittany in August. Starting on the 4th, the unit held positions in the vicinity of Rennes, France and prepared to meet an attack of enemy armor from the south. On the 8th, Company C was attached to the 121st Infantry Regiment and moved to the north for the attack on Dinard. The operations report for the time period indicates that:

Maurice J. Durkin 7“Co. C returned to battalion control on 16 August 44 after the defeat of enemy forces in the Dinard area. Three (3) M-10’s of CO “C” were hit by 88mm direct fire, one (1) being destroyed and the other two (2) damaged but recovered. Three (3) EM (enlisted men) of Co “C” were killed and five (5) were injured.”

Pvt. Maurice J. Durkin was killed on the 13th during the Dinard offensive. The other two men killed in the actions were Sgt. Irving I. Burghdorf and Cpl. Jospeh J. Skinner, who may have been members of Maurice’s TD crew. Maurice was postumostly awarded the Purple Heart Medal for making the ultimate sacrifice.

Purple Heart Certificate

After Actions Reports from the 121st Infantry Regiment confirm that one M-10 was destroyed and two others were hit. An interesting note in their report for the 13th states:

“The use of TD’s had played a vital part in all attacks. Their help was essential; it was close support, mobile and effective.”

Maurice_J._Durkin_4.pngMaurice was buried in the Brittany American Cemetery in Saint-James, France, Plot G, Row 17, Grave 5. 

I want to thank Maurice’s nephew, Joe, for providing the information and photos used in this tribute.