Servando Varela was born in 1923 in New Braunfels, Texas where his family had a farm near the city. When Servando was still a young child they moved to Garfield where they continued farming until 1939 when his family moved into Austin. In December 1942, Servando married Mary Resendez and they were living in Austin when he was drafted into the Army for service in World War II. He was inducted on February 25, 1943 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and was immediately sent by train to Camp White near Medford Oregon.
The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was activated March 1, 1943 at Camp White Oregon, and Servando Varela, assigned to Company B, was one of the battalions original members. After the men were put through basic training, the battalion participated in maneuvers near Bend, Oregon, in the central part of the state, during July and August 1943, and had completed all phases of unit training by November.
On November 20, 1943 the battalion departed for Camp Shanks, New York, by troop train, and on December 3rd they boarded the Queen Mary and departed from Pier #92, New York Port of Embarkation. The Queen Mary sailed with a British crew of 1,087 and on that crossing it carried 11,907 U.S. Troops. Five days and 11 hours later they arrived in Gourock, Scotland, were then moved by troop train to Reading, England, and finally were moved by truck convoy to camps at Wiltshire and Devises, arriving on December 12th.
Prior to the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944, the 300th Engineers constructed a camp at Bristol, an ammuntion dump near Lydney, gasoline stations at Westbury, a railhead at Sparkford, roads for a station hospital at Haydens Park; and conducted training in emplacing Bailey bridges and Treadway bridges.
The battalion was sent into Normandy a few days after the initial invasion landing. They began arriving at Utah Beach on June 15, 1944. While making the channel crossing on June 17th, LST 523 which was carrying the second wave of the battalion, struck a mine and sank with the loss of 90 men dead and 35 wounded from the 300th Engineers.
The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was initially attached to the 1110 Engineer Combat Group, part of the U.S. VIII Corps. By June 20th, Servandos Company B had been sent to the town of Carentan with the mission of re-constructing the 80-foot bridge there. Earlier combat in Carentan by the 101st Airborne Division, (a feature segment of the documentary Band of Brothers) had not dislodged German defenders in the vicinity and work at the bridge site was under their observation and fire from small arms, mortars and artillery. As a result, the engineer bridge builders were taking casualties and work was progressing slowly. On June 27th, the battalion commander, Major John Tucker, was at the bridge site when Servando Varela was wounded, hit in the right forearm by shell fragments from a German 88mm gun. Shortly after Servando was evacuated, Major Tucker was killed by artillery shelling at the bridge, and another fifteen engineers were wounded on that day alone. After construction of the bridge had been completed, the Tucker Bridge, as it was named, would stand for more than thirty years before being replaced by a concrete and stone permanent structure.
Although he did not know it at the time, the war was over for Servando Varela. He was initially treated in an Army Field Hospital in Normandy and then evacuated to England. After a month in the hospital in England, even though the shell fragments had not been removed from his arm, he was sent back to France to be returned to his unit. After being held for some time in a hotel in Paris awaiting news about where his unit was located, he became ill. His doctor, alarmed because months had passed but the wounds had not begun to heal, had Servando shipped back to England again. On February 8, 1945 Servando Varela was medically evacuated, arriving back in the United States on February 24th and then was sent by train to McCloskey General Hospital in Temple, Texas where he was operated on for removal of the shell fragments in his arm.
Meanwhile, although Servando was no longer with them, the 300th Engineers remained continuously committed to combat engineer missions all across France, Belgium, and into Germany before the war ended in Europe in May 1945. Most engineer projects involved only a company, platoon or even smaller detachment at any given work site and so the battalion was normally spread over many miles simultaneously working on roads, bridges, airfields, supply points and such at many locations. After Germany surrendered, they continued to perform general engineering work through August 1945. For one last project, the entire battalion assembled and built a public park on the banks of the Main River in Aschaffenburg. The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was then returned to the United States and inactivated on November 2, 1945 at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.
On December 3, 1945, Servando received a disability discharge at McCloskey General Hospital in Temple, Texas and returned home to Austin. After receiving vocational training he was employed by an Austin manufacturer, Economy Furniture, for fifteen years. Following that, he worked for the City of Austin, retiring in 1985 from the Airport Police at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. When the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic opened in 1991, Servando started serving as a volunteer initially serving 5 days a week in the pharmacy. Now, many thousands of hours of volunteer service later he continues to serve one day a week at the clinic.
Servando and Mary Varela have two sons and three grandsons, all but one of whom lives in Austin. They recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.
Servando Varela provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the July 2005 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN. Servando passed away in January 2010.