O’Connor, Clifford B. (703rd)

Clifford B. OConnor 1Clifford B. O’Connor

Biography:  Clifford “Cliff” Boyce O’Connor was born on September 19, 1919, in Websterville, Vermont. He was the son of Peter O’Connor and Lula Nye and attended Saint Sylvester’s School in Websterville. He graduated from Spaulding High School in Barre, Vermont, in 1937. Cliff moved to Hartford, Connecticut, soon after graduating and briefly found work as a bell-boy at the Bond Hotel. He was later employed by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, CT, as a material clerk.

Service Time: Clifford entered the service on February 9, 1942, at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. He was only there a few days before leaving on the 14th for Fort Polk, Louisiana, and arriving on the 17th.  He received his basic training there before shipping out to Camp Hood, Texas, for additional training.  He was there for six weeks in June and July and then left for the Desert Training Center in California, training as part of the 3rd Armored Division. The 703rd, having completed training there, moved out on October 29 for Camp Pickett, Virginia, where they remained for just over two months, before moving to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. They remained there for over 7 months before leaving for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and final preparations before shipping overseas. The 703rd was one of only a few units that did not wear the TD patch on their left shoulder overseas, instead wearing the triangular “Spearhead” patch of the 3rd Armored Division. Cliff served as a TD Commander with 3rd Platoon, B Company, of the 703rd.

The 703rd left the U.S. on the S.S. Shawnee, sailing on September 5, 1943, as part of a grouping of ships, carrying the entire 3rd ID. They arrived at Avonmouth, England, on the 15th and moved to Mere, Wiltshire, England. They spent 9 months there continuing their training.  They were not part of the initial Normandy landings but boarded L.C.Ts (Landing Craft Tank) on June 28, 1944, and sailed for Normandy, landing at Omaha Beach.

Clifford B.OConnor 3Clifford B.OConnor 4

The photo above left is Cliff while stationed at the Desert Training Center.  The right photo shows Cliff, on right, during a boxing match while stationed at Indiantown Gap.

They first saw action near Hautes Vents, France, on July 13, and participated in the Cobra breakout at the end of the month.  Held in reserve during the battle of Mortain in August, they crossed the river Seine on August 26, and reaching the Siegfried Line in the vicinity of Eschweiler, Germany, by September 12. The 703rd was the first battalion converted to M36’s, beginning at the end of September, and began fighting along the West Wall of the Siegfried Line until mid-December, when they were transferred to the Ardennes and fought to reduce the Bulge in January, 1945.

Letter Home – October 7, 1944 (Germany)

Letter Home – January 1, 1945 (Belgium)

Letter Home – February 5, 1945 (Belgium)

On January 24, the battalion pulled out of battle for rest at Ocquier, Belgium. Clifford received a 3-day pass the next day and left for Paris. On January 28, Clifford, along with Pvt. Douglas L. Shields, Pfc. George W. McCurdy, T/5 Francis A. Farney and T/5 Bernard A. Millen, borrowed a 6 x 3 cargo truck and went for a 4 hour trip. Problem was that they did not have permission to use the truck or leave the post. The group was court-martialed and each demoted in rank, their pay docked and they were restricted to the base. Clifford was reduced to the rank of Pvt. for four months but he was then restored to Sgt. and soon promoted to Staff Sergeant.

The 703rd left Ocquier on February 19, for Stulberg, Germany, arriving on the 23rd. They crossed the Roer the next day and drove toward Cologne, crossing the Rhine River on March 23, near Honnef.  They participated in the envelopment of the Ruhr, later moving east to stop at Dessau by April 14.

When the war ended, the 703rd was at Saubach, Germany.  On August 24, they received news of going home. Cliff was transferred to the 423rd Infantry Regiment as part of the 106th Infantry Division, which was stationed in Odenheim, Germany.  He left on September 9, arriving at Camp Lucky Strike on the 11th, to wait for shipment back to the U.S. They sailed on the U.S. Victory on the 20th, arriving in Boston on the 28th. Cliff first went to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, and then was discharged on October 2, 1945, at Camp Edwards, MA.

Cliff left the service at the rank of Staff Sergeant.  He received credit for each of the unit’s campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

Honorable Discharge

Cliff went back to his job at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division, United Technologies Corp. and stayed there until his retirement in 1977.  During his many years there, he worked with experimental aircraft, providing for the manufacture and testing of parts provided by vendors.  This required him to travel to both their Florida and California plants.  He became a group leader, working with design engineers and metallurgy specialists on projects such as the JT9-D jet engine.

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In his spare time, he enjoyed landscape gardening and yard work, which often ended with games of horseshoes and later conversations around the kitchen table. He volunteered with the Junior Achievement organization and was active in civic organizations. He was a great listener with far-ranging interests and he enjoyed the affections of an extended family throughout his life.

He married the former Dorothy Marie Smith on August 24, 1946, in Hartford, CT.  “Dottie” was born in Portland, Maine, and was the daughter of Franz Dana Smith and Elizabeth Averill Willett. Cliff had met Dottie before the war, while he was a bell-boy.  They became sweethearts soon thereafter. The new couple made their home in Windsor Locks, CT. They had two sons and two daughters, Karen, born in 1947, Peter in 1948, Kenneth in 1952 and Kathleen in 1958.

Cliff was a faithful member of the Saint Robert Bellarmine Roman Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus.  He was also a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He passed away on August 10, 1990, and was buried in the Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Windsor Locks.

I want to thank Cliff’s daughter, Karen, for providing the information and photos for this tribute. Karen took on the task of transcribing all of her father’s 265 letters covering the period of December 7, 1941, through 1945.  With this material, she has created a document, which includes entries from her grandmother’s diary from that same period as well as pictures and segments of her father’s letters that revealed his continuity with his immediate family and with his relatives. Karen is willing to provide this document to those who may be interested.  Just contact us here at info@tankdestroyer.net and we will put you in touch with her.

Clifford B.OConnor and brothersThe last photo shown on left was taken on December 6, 1942, while Clifford was on leave. Clifford is shown on left with his brothers Wendell, center and Lawrence on right.  All three served in WWII, with Clifford and Wendell in the European Theater and Lawrence in the Pacific Theater. Both Clifford and Lawrence lived to return but on July 8, 1944, Pvt. Bernard Wendell O’Connor was killed, while serving in Italy with the 19th Engineer Combat Regiment.  He was buried in the Florence American Cemetery, located in Via Cassia, Italy. He was posthumously given the Purple Heart.