Isbell's barracks bag comes home

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Seventy-three years after PFC Clinton Isbell Jr. was killed on the Rhine River near the conclusion of World War II, a piece of the East Texas native has been returned to his family for good.

C.A., as he was known to those closest to him, joined the United States Army in 1942 at the age of 19. He joined the 301st Infantry Regiment at Fort Custer, Mich. for basic training. His unit became part of the 94th Infantry Division, known as ‘Patton’s Golden Nuggets’ in Patton’s 3rd Army.

His unit reached Utah Beach in France three months after the D-Day Invasion. They moved east and replaced the 90th Infantry Division on Jan. 7, 1945 and began their offensive a week later, taking Tettingen and Butzdorf.

They would reach the Rhine in March. As the war entered its final month in Europe, C.A.’s Division was transported near Krefeld to replace the 102nd Infantry Division. It was here, on April 7, 1945, that C.A. and seven of his mates were fired upon while crossing the Rhine. The machine gun fire spared none of them and no bodies were recovered.

For his actions, C.A. received multiple medals including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the Good Conduct Medal. His name was engraved on the wall honoring MIA soldiers at the Margraten American Cemetery in The Netherlands.

But C.A.’s story was far from finished. In 2013, a French collector by the name of Pierre-Baptiste Castandet published a blog about a barracks bag that was discovered in Normandy. Included in the post, which was entitled “Never Forget These Heroes” was a picture of C.A.

Pierre has been collecting World War II items from the Normandy area since he was young and attempts to reach out and thank American families. But he seemed reluctant to give the barracks bag to the Isbells at first after they reached out to him online.

C.A.’s nephew and namesake Clint, however, was able to persuade Pierre in person along with his friend Martine, who is from France and could translate. Through the effort of Clint as well as a number of other Isbells, the barracks bag came home for good.

The family gathered at the HEARTS Veterans Museum in Huntsville on Saturday to admire a display that featured the bag as well as C.A.’s medals and other belongings.

“It is like having him come home,” said George Isbell, one of C.A.’s brothers, who spoke at the event’s reception.

Buck Isbell, C.A.’s younger brother, served as a sort of emcee for the reception. He regaled family stories to a room full of Isbells and invited C.A.’s nephews to speak about how they retrieved the barracks bag. Also in attendance was C.A.’s sister Frances.

“I just happened upon Pierre’s website and C.A. came up,” said George Jr., C.A.’s nephew who first discovered the bag online by happenstance. “That picture I saw on the blog was all I knew of him and then I saw the bag. I could not believe that he had something of C.A.’s.”

C.A. had four brothers, all who served their country, and four sisters, whose husbands all served their country.

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