Biography: Don Hurst was born on December 4, 1918, in Duhring, West Virginia, which is in Mercer County. He was one of twelve children born to Fred Haven Hurst and Dolly Harmon and he attended the Montcalm School system, completing the 11th grade. When he was a teenager, the family moved to Burlington, North Carolina where he found work with Burlington Industries in their Plaid Mill.
Service Time: He entered the Army on April 1, 1942, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and was assigned to Company C of the 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The 813th saw action in Africa, Italy and throughout Europe and was credited with six campaigns including Tunisia, Rome Arno, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. Don recalled seeing General Patton while he was in Tunisia but would later meet and be spoken to by Patton when the unit was participating in the invasion of Sicily. Patton told Don and other members of the unit that they were doing a good job. It was also during that time that Don was involved in ferrying Italian officers to North Africa. These officers were upset when they learned that they were not going to the U.S. but to prison camps in North Africa. One souvenir Don cherished was a hand-made American flag, made and given to him by a teenager as the Americans passed through. He was always impressed that it contained the correct number of stars and stripes in its design.
In November of 1943, after fighting in Sicily, the 813th was sent to England to prepare for the D-Day Invasion. While there, First-Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the outfit and asked them what they needed most? The answer rang out as thick socks for the known cold weather they would encounter. It was only a few weeks later that they received both wool socks and shoe pads. Don got three pairs of socks and two pairs of the pads.
Patton’s Boys Article – Interview by Jim Wicker for Times-News
Winter Warriors Article – Times-News of Burlington, NC
On November 4, 1944, while the unit was in still in France, an enemy shell hit Don’s tank destroyer and he was blown out and landed in the mud. Don functioned as the main gun’s loader, which positioned him at the rear of the turret. The other four members of the crew were killed from the initial hit or the subsequent fire. Don was injured and evacuated to a field hospital for 17 days but was able to return to the unit, now with a limp, to take part in the Battle of the Bulge. In addition to Don’s crew, both the 813th’s Commanding Officer and his driver were killed that same month. Don received the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Good Conduct Medal for his service. He left the service at the rank of Pfc.
Don returned to the U.S. and married the former Peggy Jacquel Simpson in 1947. She was the daughter of Carl Simpson and Maggie Allen Smith and was born in Shelby, NC. The couple made their residence in Burlington, NC, and had three sons, Don Jr., James and Charles. Don returned to Burlington Industries and continued with them for 35 years. He and his wife started attending reunions of the 813th in 1973 with 27 veterans on hand. In the last few years that Don was able to attend, only a few of his comrades still remained. Don was also a member of the Brookwood Baptist Church.
Don passed away on Nov. 11, 2011, and was buried in the Alamance Memorial Park in Burlington NC. At the time of his death, he had eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. I want to thank his son, Don Jr., for providing the photos and information about his father.