Harry Albert Flint was born on 12 February 1888 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. His parents, Mabel and Charles G. Flint, lived in a small house in St. Johnbury with their seven children. Harry was the third in line. This young boy’s interest for the military thing came up very early, perhaps inspired by the Philippines War stories that came back in Vermont at the end of the nineteenth century. He was a 11 years young boy, and he already dreamed of a glorious military career.
In 1903, the young Harry finished his studies at the elementary school and entered high school. All through his youth, Harry never missed the opportunity to be an active young boy. He was an outdoor man, and excelled as a horseman. At the end of his high school period, a friend of him suggested the next step in Harry’s life: why wouldn’t he join the famous military academy of West Point? For Flint, that did make sense. He already knew he wanted to become a cavalry officer. On 2 March 1908, Harry’s dream came true, when he was admitted in the United States Military Academy as Fifth Class Year Cadet, at the age of 20.
West Point Academy
It’s during his years spent in West Point Academy that Flint became ‘Paddy’, an Irish nickname given to Harry who was far from being Irish, but he loved Irish culture. However, this nickname followed him until his death, and anyone that met him will then refer to Harry Flint as ‘Paddy’.
During his years as a cadet, he worked hard to become a cavalry officer, and met a fellow cadet named George S. Patton Jr., who soon became a close friend of him, and they created together, a friendship of a lifetime. If Paddy never excelled as a cadet, he never failed neither. Except in playing polo, first common denominator with George S. Patton Jr. But polo wasn’t his only activity: he was fascinated by sports, thank to which he emerged to be a real leader. In 1912, he logically graduated West Point Academy and as commissioned second lieutenant in the 4th Cavalry Regiment. Three years later, two others later known cadets graduated: Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, which Paddy met when he led their instruction company.
World War I
During the Punitive Expedition 1916-1917, Flint’s desire for action was frustrated by his assignment at Fort Riley, Kansas, rather than in Mexico with his unit. When it appeared that the United States were going to get into the Great War, Paddy was transferred to the artillery, as a mean to go into combat. Though he served in France, his regiment was a replacement unit rather than a fighting outfit. After the Armistice, he joined the Third Army in Koblenze, Germany, performing in various capacities, including “remount Officer”, for which he received the Cross of Czechoslovakia “because they felt I had been honest with them in horse trades.” He also won a citation from his own government for jumping into a switch-engine cab and driving a trainload of high explosive through the flames of a burning ammunition dump out to safety.
Returning home in 1921, Major Flint started a succession of assignments: Cavalry School, General Service School, Command and General Staff School, New Mexico Military Institute, Ecole Supérieure de Guerre in Paris, France (where he became fluent in French), Office of the chief of Cavalry and even Air Corps Tactical School. In 1933, he joined the 1st Cavalry Regiment (Ft. Knox, Kentucky). In 1935 he became Lieutenant-Colonel and headed the Cavalry ROTC at the University of Illinois. From 1939 to 1941 he was in the 5th Cavalry Regiment, in the process of becoming a full-bird Colonel. In 1941, Paddy joined his friend George Patton in the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
The quest for a combat assignment
When the war started, Paddy was desperately seeking for a combat assignment, but was over the age limit. But Paddy couldn’t imagine that war coming up without serving in a combat unit: for too long, he has been aside the battlefields. Hopefully, he could rely on his different contacts he made throughout the years, and especially on his good old friend, Major General George S. Patton. Finally, Flint received on June 29, 1942, the following order:
1. The Secretary or War relieves the following named officer from assignment and duty as indicated and assigns him to permanent station outside the continental limits of the United States, temperate climate, Headquarters, SOS, European Theater, London, England. He will proceed to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, reporting not later than July 10th, 1942 to the Commanding Officer, Special Troops, SOS, for transportation to destination. Upon arrival to London, England, he will report to the Commanding General, SOS, European Theater, for duty with the BI Detachment.
Colonel Harry A. Flint, O-3377, Cav., 2nd Armored Div., Ft. Benning, Ca.
2. Prior to his departure from his present station, he will be equipped for extended field service, including steel helmet and gas mask, and will have in his possession WD, MD, Form 81, showing inoculations and immunizations required before leaving the continental limits of the United States, and will require physical inspection as prescribed by par. 14, AR 40-100, as amended by Sec. III, Cir. 31, WD 1942.
3. Individuals should advise their correspondents that mail will be addressed to them at “Hq., SOS, APO 1094, c/o Postmaster, New York, N.Y.”
But after a certain time in London, Paddy soon realized that he was still far from his dreamt combat command, working through paperwork and administrative burden. But Paddy worked every day to “fight the fight”. And on November 8th, 1942, he was part of the North Africa invasion. Not as a combat soldier, but still part of the invasion.
Paddy was assigned to the G-3 Desk in Oran, working for the supply chain which was a challenging post, but by the end of December, rules and doctrines were changed, threatening the 54 years officer’s job longevity. At that time of the North African campaign, the Allied wanted more cooperation with the French authorities. And on this late December 1942, Paddy was sent to the French Headquarters in Algiers, as a Liaison officer. Actually, the French authority was held by General Giraud, who was, back in the days, Flint’s instructor at the French École Supérieure de Guerre in Paris. So, who better than Flint to liaise with Giraud?
In early January, Flint received a letter from the Commanding General of the I Armored Corps:
My dear Paddy,
I hope you like the job with Giraud, as I was the one who recommended you for it, remembering well your stories of him when we were together at Benning. Jake Devers was here yesterday and told me you were doing a grand job.
If you are looking for fighting, it is my advice to keep away from me as I do not seem destined to get in any for the time being, but if things brighten up, we shall certainly get together.
S. PATTON, JR
Paddy was actually doing so great with Giraud that they became good friends. His job anyway, was of the utmost importance since he had to understand precisely everything going on between French, Americans and British on the North African Theater. Eventually, Giraud presented Flint the French well-known distinction “Légion d’Honneur” – Legion of Honor – with the rank of Croix de chevalier (Cross of the Knight). Meanwhile, Rommel was inflicting a major setback to the U.S. forces at Kasserine Pass. The unlucky General Fredendall had to be replaced, and Ike chose Patton to restore the backbone and the fighting spirit of the II Corps. And at that very same time, coincidently, Flint was relieved from his liaison post to be assigned to… the II Corps Headquarters in Southern Tunisia; and when the very noisy motorized column drove Patton to his new headquarters, no doubt Paddy was rolling along.
The way to his last assignment…
Invasion of Sicily was on planning, with Patton and Montgomery in charge. Patton received a new command, the 7th Army, leaving the II Corps to General Bradley. Flint, having worked as Staff Officer, certainly knew the new plan on going, so he simply paid a visit to General Bradley, to ask for a combat unit assignment… as simple as that. So before the end of April 1943, Paddy knocked at Bradley’s doorway and asked an old friend a favor.
“Brad, I’m wasting my talents back in the rear shuffling papers (…)” he told the General. It is hard to know what the response of Bradley was, but Paddy had nothing to lose, being a 54 years officer with 31 years of Army behind him. Paddy had to go back to Algiers, where few days later, he received a new order that assigned him, again, to the 2nd Armored Division, just before the Operation Husky, invasion of Sicily. A new chance – and hope – to join a combat unit for the optimistic Paddy.
He then was assigned as Detachment Commander (Det. Co.) of the 2nd Armored Division’s Headquarters, while at the same time, General Bradley and Major General Manton S. Eddy – 9th Infantry Division Commander – were having a conversation back at the II Corps headquarters. Soon after the defeat of the enemy in Tunisia, Eddy went to see Bradley with the 39th Infantry Regiment in mind: “the 39th’s confidence and fighting spirit need a boost”. Moreover, that unit was planned to take part to the Operation Husky, and Eddy wanted a new regimental commander. Bradley agreed, remembering an earlier conversation. And he promised General Eddy to send him… a fifty-five years old cavalry officer!
The 39th Infantry Regiment landed on July 14th, 1943, at Licata. It was then commanded by Colonel William Ritter, third regimental commander since the unit landed in North Africa, nine months earlier (Colonels Benjamin F. Caffey and J. Trimble Brown preceding). The regiment was ready to fight, and was attached to the 82nd Aiborne Division for the beginning of the operations in Sicily. Colonel Ritter could rely on good and experienced battalion commanders, such as Van H. Bond, 3rd Battalion commander. But one day as the regiment was pushing to Castelvetrano, an enemy aircraft overflew the HQ vehicles. Ritter stepped out of his command car (against the directives spread out to not off-load their vehicle in case of aerial attack) and another officer in the car jumped off as well, hiting Ritter and breaking his leg. The regimental commander was then evacuated, and Lt. Col. John J. Toffey, X.O., took over the regiment (he will be killed later on during that campaign).
Under Toffey’s command, the 39th Infantrymen were progressing, from success to success, But at the rear, the conversation between Eddy and Bradley was certainly not forgotten, and if Toffey was Acting Regimental Commander, Manton still wanted a new boos for his 39th Infantry Regiment. And on July 25th, 1943, Flint, still working on his paperwork, received a new order…
TO: COMMANDING OFFICER, 7TH ARMY REAR. SEND COLONEL H. A. FLINT, 2ND ARMD DIV BY FIRST AVAILABLE AIR X PATTON TO HARVEY
That radio order was immediately confirmed to Flint by the following:
RE 7A – 10 25 July 1943
Subject: Travel Orders
To: CG, 2d Armd Div.
- PAC in radiogram CD SEVENTH ARMY, 24 July 1943, COLONEL HARRY A. FLINT, O-3377, 2d Armd Div WP o/a 26 July 1943 fr his present sta to Sicily by mil ap RUA to CG Seventh Army. Upon completion of his dy he WR to his proper sta.
- Travel directed by air is necessary to accomplish an essential war mission.
By Command of Lieutenant General PATTON.
Part. II will follow soon !