Howard L. Purvis
Biography: Howard Lee Purvis, “Pete”, was born on November 13, 1914, in Louisburg, Kansas. He was the son of Charles Washington Purvis and Ava Viola Morgan and attended Louisburg Grade School.
When he was old enough, he found work with the Pacific Railroad at the roadhouse in Osawatomie, KS. The railway there had become a key connection for both the Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad and featured repair facilities, a large station for passengers and substantial freight capabilities.
On August 22, 1942, Pete married the former Mary Jane Becker who was also born in Louisburg and was the daughter of Charles Edgar Becker and Marjorie Elizabeth Smith. The new couple would make their home in Louisburg but Pete and Mary Jane would only have a short time together before he was called into military service.
Service Time: Pete was drafted and entered the Army on September 24th at Fort Leavenworth, KS. After his basic training, he was put into the replacement system and shipped to North Africa, where he joined the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion as part of Company B. His military specialty is listed as automotive mechanic. The 601st had come to North Africa beginning with the unit’s Reconnaissance Company on November 8, 1942, as part of Operation Torch. The rest of battalion arrived in December and then fought in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in February, 1943, and at El Guettar in March. The unit converted to the M10 tank destroyer at the end of the North Africa campaign and then participated in invasion landings at Salerno, Italy, on September 9th. Pete served as a driver on one of the unit’s M10s.
Pete related to his family that during the landing at Salerno, he was ordered by British officer to pull his TD onto the unloading ramp of the landing craft. Howard initially refused and told him that the chains holding the ramp wouldn’t hold the TD but the officer insisted and when Pete finally complied, in the water the TD went. Howard said that he was almost court-martialed for that incident. This specific incident or a very similar one has been widely reported in a number of books on the subject.
The 601st made their assault at Anzio on January 22, 1944, and entered Rome in June. They conducted their fourth assault landing in southern France on August 15th and advanced to the German border in the Vosges region. They participated in reduction of Colmar Pocket in February 1945, and then converted to the M36 tank destroyer. Battling along the Siegfried Line until crossing the Rhine on March 22nd, they helped capture Nürnberg in April and ended the war occupying Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria.
Pete received credit for seven campaigns, including Tunisia, Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Rome Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Central Europe. He additionally received the Good Conduct Medal and shared in the unit’s Distinguished Unit Badge and the Croix de Guerre with Palm. He left the service at the rank of Technician 5th Grade.
After the war, Pete returned to Louisburg and found work initially as a mechanic for the Rosner Motor Company. He later became an Agent with the Standard Oil Company selling bulk fuel and oil to farmers and businesses. He and Mary Jane would start a family, having a daughter Joyce in 1947, another daughter Doris in 1948, and a son Charles in 1951. In his spare time, Pete played baseball with a local team and cultivated an interest in politics. This interest would lead him to become Mayor of Louisburg in the late 60s and early 70s.
After his retirement in 1972, he drove a bus for the local school district. On one occasion, after having just dropped off some of the children, he saw a vehicle which was out of control and speeding toward the children. He quickly ran to move the children out of harms way. The children were saved but he was injured during the incident. Pete’s actions would later be applauded by the Mayor in a ceremony.
Pete was also a member of both the American Legion and VFW. He passed away on January 30, 1987, and was buried in the Louisburg Cemetery in Louisburg. I want to thank Pete’s son, Charles, for providing the information and photos used in this tribute. Thank you also to Find A Grave contributor Steve McCray for the use of the grave mark.