Richard Labin, Jr. WWII Battles
Affiliation–Allegiance: United States of America. Branch of Service: Army. Rank: Private First Class (PFC). Unit: 26th Infantry Division – “Yankee.” Specialty: Infantry, Expert Marksman BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). World War II.
Ardennes (16 Dec 1944)*
Battle of the Bulge
D-Day Invasion Utah Beach
Battle of the Rhineland
Battle of Cherbourg
Bronze Star Medal
Distinguished Unit Citation
American Campaign Medal
European Theatre Campaign Medal with 3 Oak-Leaf Cluster
Good Conduct Medal
Expert Marksman Rifle Medal
Expert Marksman Carbine Medal
Northern France Streamer
My father, Richard Labin, Jr. (aka Dick Labin) enlisted in the Army in 1943, trained in Pensacola, FL and was shipped out as part of the 26th Infantry Division (the “Yankee” Division made famous in WW I by Sergeant York) in the 328th Regiment. From Great Britain, Richard Labin and the rest of the regiment came ashore on Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion and the Battle of Normandy. He and his unit proceeded to fight their way across France, Belgium, and into the Rhineland, during which time Richard Labin, Jr. was wounded 3 times. His legs were shattered by machine-gun fire during the Battle of the Bulge, he was wounded by shrapnel during the Battle of the Rhineland, and his jeep exploded (either from a mine or a mortar shell, which caused numerous wrecks on the road that day). After his first injury, Richard was sent back into combat–because that’s what they did in those days–and sometime during or soon after the Battle of the Bulge, when most of his unit was killed or lost, Richard was one of a small number of white soldiers who volunteered to drive for The Red Ball Express (carrying ammunition and supplies to other units at the front).
After his jeep exploded in the Rhineland (Germany), his leg was re-broken and he had to be sent back to Great Britain for reconstructive surgery. While in the hospital there, his medals were stolen. A quietly brave man, my father refused to fight the government to get what was his due, so we never even knew he had so many medals–let alone the Bronze Star!–until I spent two years trying to get them replaced after my father’s death. My search was made nearly impossible by the loss of his (and other servicemen’s) records in the St. Louis fire in the 1970s. If not for our copies of his discharge papers, we never would have got his medals reissued. He was shipped home in the summer of 1945, so he was not present when his division helped liberate one of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Nevertheless, I think he did more than his fair share in that dreadful conflict. While my father never saw Bob Hope or any other entertainers when he was fighting for his life, he did see General George S. Patton with his famous pearl-handled revolvers, General Omar Bradley (a favorite of the troops), and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. And in the hospital in Great Britain, he saw Red Skelton (who had been sent there on a Section 8). My father received the Bronze Star Medal for his heroism during the Battle of the Bulge, as well as numerous other medals.
Since my father never talked about the war–real heroes seldom do–the information I have about his battles had to come from secondary sources.The following details of the 26th Infantry‘s combat duty come courtesy of US Military websites, National Geographic Channel, Wikipedia, and others.
“Operation Overlord–A grand hoax, top secret maps, and live-ammunition rehearsals set the stage for June 6, 1944, when 200,000 soldiers stormed Normandy’s beaches to help free Europe. ‘This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.’ –General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The outcome of the war rested upon its success.”
The plan for Operation Overlord entailed landing nine divisions of sea and airborne troops, over 150,000 men, along a 50-mile stretch of coast in just 24 hours.On D-Day, three airborne divisions, one British and two American, would drop behind the landing beaches. Their job: seize beach exits, capture key transportation and communication points, and block German counterattacks. Six divisions would assault the five landing beaches. Each beach had a code name. Utah Beach was assigned to the U.S. 4th Division. The US 29th and 1st Divisions would land at Omaha Beach. Further east, the British 50th Division would assault Gold Beach and the Canadian 3rd Division would attack at Juno Beach. The British 3rd Division would take Sword Beach.
The main objective of Allied deception strategy was to convince the Germans that an invasion would indeed take place, but not at Normandy. The most obvious choice for an invasion site was Calais, located at the narrowest part of the English Channel, only 22 miles from Great Britain. Hitler was almost certain that the Allies would attack here. The Allies encouraged Hitler’s belief by employing an ingenious ruse. Throughout southeastern England they built phony armies, complete with dummy planes, ships, tanks, and jeeps. With the help of British and American motion picture crews, they created entire army bases that would look authentic to German reconnaissance aircraft. These “bases” gave the impression of a massive Allied buildup in preparation for an invasion of France at Calais. The ruse worked. Hitler ordered a heavy concentration of troops and artillery in the Pas-de-Calais region. In doing so, he left Normandy with fewer defenders.
“‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’ –Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 1943.
The success of Operation Overlord depended heavily on preventing Hitler from learning the date and location of the invasion. If the Germans were to gain advance knowledge of D-Day, the outcome could be disastrous. Additional divisions and arms could easily be deployed to Normandy in time to stop an Allied assault at the beach. The Allies needed to devise a plan that would keep the Germans in the dark about the invasion preparations. Winston Churchill was one of the chief architects of the Overlord deception plan, which was code-named “Bodyguard.” As D-Day approached, small groups of Allied ships and planes would head towards Calais, transmitting electronic signals to simulate the approach of a large invasion fleet on German radar. Plans to isolate and confuse German forces in Normandy were aided by the French Resistance. Before D-Day, this secret army provided Allied planners with reports about German positions and activities in Normandy. Once the invasion began, they would sabotage railroad tracks and cut power and communication lines.
‘After enduring all the ordeals and training in England, we felt like we were completely ready for anything, and we were very ready to fight the Germans, and we looked forward to the day that we could actually get into the real fight.’ –Sgt. Bob Slaughter, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division.
Operation Overlord required a massive buildup of men and supplies in Great Britain, the training zone and staging area for the invasion. American troops began arriving in 1942. Eventually there would be over 1.5 million American soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the United Kingdom. They joined divisions of British and Canadian troops, along with smaller contingents from France, Poland, and other nations. The presence of so many Americans caused some problems. The Yanks were paid four times what British troops received. This, and the attention the Americans paid to British women, bred resentment: ‘Overpaid, oversexed and over here.'”
The Allied troops preparing for D-Day pursued a routine of intense training. They spent hours at firing ranges, underwent physical conditioning, and became familiar with different landing craft. There were assault exercises at beach training sites. The men practiced exiting landing craft. They crawled under barbed wire while live fire passed over their heads. Engineers were trained to demolish beach obstacles and blow up mines. Army Rangers scaled cliffs. Paratroopers made day and night jumps and endured three-day forced marches. My father, Richard Labin, Jr., told us often of this training, with real barbed wire and real bullets fired at them; few people realize how many young men lost their lives during training, never confronting the Germans at all. Dick Labin was an expert marksman with the rifle and the carbine; his specialty weapon was a Browning Automatic Rifle (issued only to the most superb marksmen in the army).
“Hitler envisioned the Atlantic Wall as an unbreakable barrier, fortified with enough artillery and manpower to foil even a massive invasion attempt. Plans called for 15,000 concrete bunkers, ranging in size from small pillboxes to great fortresses. As further protection, Rommel ordered placement of mined beach obstacles along the French coast. Simple yet deadly, these obstacles were positioned across entire beachfronts. At high tide, many of them were virtually invisible. These obstacles created a dilemma for Allied invasion planners. If their attack came during high tide, many landing craft would hit mines. But if it took place during low tide, troops would have to cross a wider portion of beach while under enemy fire. General Omar Bradley severely restricted the number of items issued to US soldiers, so that they would not be weighed down by extra gear when they landed in Normandy. But even lightly equipped, the average soldier would carry about 75 pounds of equipment onto the beaches.
This gear was in addition to their weapons and ammunition:
Extra boxes of matches
Vomit bags–Because of the limited number of vomit bags, many GIs resorted to using their helmets instead.
Antiseasickness pills–For thousands of soldiers these pills had no effect other than inducing extreme drowsiness.
200 francs of invasion currency–These notes were legal tender in occupied France, even though most were printed in the United States.
French Language Guide
Ration heating units–Each can contained a fuel tablet that, when lit, served as a small stove.
Paperback book–The government provided millions of these easy-to-carry books to the military. Paperbacks were available before the war, but mass production began only after they were popularized by the GIs.
Pocket Guide to France
Condoms–Troops found these useful in keeping sand and water out of rifle barrels.
Water purification tablets
Extra pair of gas-protective socks
Extra candy bars
Extra razor blade
Pliofilm rifle cover–Soldiers could put their rifles in these plastic waterproof bags to protect them from water damage during the trip across the Channel.
Extra cigarette packs
‘All southern England was one vast military camp, crowded with soldiers awaiting final word to go. …The mighty host was tense as a coiled spring…coiled for the moment when its energy should be released and it would vault the English Channel in the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted.’ — General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In the first week of May 1944 the soldiers and sailors of the invasion force began descending on southern England. They came by boat, train, bus, or on foot from bases all over Great Britain. Almost 2 million men and nearly half a million vehicles were assembled. It was the greatest mass movement of armed forces in the history of the British and American armies. Upon their arrival in southern England, the men were confined in marshaling areas. There they began to be briefed about their mission. General Eisenhower had set D-Day for June 5. Loading for the assault started on May 31. That night, the first part of the massive naval operation began when minesweepers moved out to start clearing channels for the armada. Then, on June 4, with the great invasion force poised to go, trouble struck. A large storm arose in the English Channel. D-Day was almost cancelled.”
The first men to see action were the airborne troops. Three airborne divisions, two American and one British, dropped behind the landing beaches hours before dawn. Over 20,000 men, the largest airborne force ever assembled, entered Normandy by glider and parachute. On June 6 the sky over the English Channel swarmed with transport planes, gliders, bombers, and fighters. Bombers targeted German supply lines across northern France and patrolled the coast watching for the enemy. With nearly 5,000 vessels, the invasion fleet deployed on June 6 was inspiring and impressive.
But the sight of the approaching armada terrified the Germans stationed on the coast. One German officer marveled, ‘It’s impossible…there can’t be that many ships in the world.’ The invasion force was unchallenged until daybreak, when the German coastal batteries opened fire. Just before the first troops landed, Allied bombers and naval artillery launched a massive assault against the German positions along the coast. For 35 minutes, the landing area was pounded by over 5,000 artillery rounds and 10,000 tons of bombs. Amid the deafening noise of the artillery barrage, LCVPs and other small craft headed for shore. They were rocked by waves that left the men soaking wet,and violently seasick. Shivering from the cold and wind, and weighed down by waterlogged gear, the soldiers prepared to land on the beach.
‘ Like everyone else, I was seasick and the stench of vomit permeated our craft.” — Pvt. Clair Galdonik, 359th Infantry Regiment, US 90th Division. ‘
It was a weird feeling, to hear those heavy shells go overhead. Some of the guys were seasick. Others, like myself, just stood there, thinking and shivering. There was a fine rain and a spray, and the boat was beginning to ship water. Still, there was no return fire from the beach, which gave us hope that the navy and the air force had done a good job. This hope died 400 yards from shore. The Germans began firing mortars and artillery.’ –Sgt. Harry Bare, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division.
The first waves included 30-man assault teams and amphibious duplex tanks that plowed through the water under their own power. There were also army combat engineers and navy demolition teams, their job to clear beach obstacles and mark safe pathways. Aboard the landing craft the men were pitched about, many seasick and dominated by tension, fear, and anticipation. The naval bombardment continued, bombers went on with their work, and the noise was tremendous, leaving an unforgettable impression on every man. Closer to shore, boats began to hit mines, explosions lifting some entirely out of the water. One of the LCC (Landing Craft, Control boat) captains off Omaha Beach was Lt. Phil Bucklew, who saw that sea conditions were too dangerous for launching amphibious duplex drive (DD), but his radio report was ignored. Most of the DD tanks that were launched toward Omaha Beach sank, some taking crewmen to the floor of the shallow but deadly Bay of the Seine. Other Scouts and Raiders teams were close to the beaches in LCS (Landing Craft, Support) armed with twin .50-caliber machine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, and rockets mounted in racks. Their job was to give covering fire for landing craft as they approached the beaches. In the water near the tide line on Omaha Beach, NCDUs worked with Army teams from the 146th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions, placing charges against steel obstacles and blasting eight clearings through to the beach. They had trained together before the invasion and were combined for this operation to form part of the Special Engineer Task Force, arriving on the beach five minutes after the first landing craft came to shore. The NCDUs accomplished their task at a heavy cost to themselves and hampered by soldiers who tried to use the obstacles as shelter. The NCDUs on Omaha Beach lost 31 men and suffered 60 wounded out of a total of 180 men. They later received a presidential unit citation.
On Utah Beach (where my Dad’s unit landed), the firefight was much less intense than on Omaha Beach, so the NCDUs lost only 6 men and 11 wounded. Navy teams worked with Army demolition men from the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions to clear the beach of steel and concrete obstacles. By day’s end, they claimed 1,600 yards of cleared beach available for safe landings. It was an invaluable accomplishment, allowing the Navy to unload 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles onto Utah Beach. The Navy’s use of Scouts and Raiders, NCDUs, and other special operations groups like underwater demolition teams (UDTs) eventually led to the creation of a dedicated unit that handles many secret tasks that involve the sea and land. Called SEALs (for Sea, Air, Land), they are one of the elite forces in the United States military today. —David W. Wooddell
“‘As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell. I shut everything out and concentrated on following the men in front of me down the ramp and into the water.’ –Pfc. Harry Parley, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division (speaking of Omaha Beach).
‘There was this barbed wire area and a wounded officer who had stepped on an antipersonnel mine calling for help. I decided that I should go. I walked in toward him, putting each foot down carefully and picked him up and carried him back. That was my baptism. It was the sort of behavior I expected of myself.’ — Lt. Elliot Richardson, medical detachment.
Because of differences in tides, the American beaches, Utah and Omaha, were assaulted first. Utah Beach was assigned to the US 4th Division. H-Hour, when the attack would begin, was 6:30 A.M. The initial assault force included rifle companies, combat engineers, and naval demolition teams. There were also 32 amphibious tanks. Four tanks sank offshore. But 28 made it safely to the beach. As the first wave neared the coast, strong currents swept the boats south. They beached 2,000 yards from the planned landing zone. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of America’s 26th president and, at age 56, the oldest member of the assault forces, was with the first wave. He and other officers assessed the situation, then quickly made a decision; they changed the landing site to their location. This action saved many lives. The new landing zone was less defended than the original landing site. By 9:30 A.M., three beach exits were secure. Before noon, the US 4th Division made contact with airborne forces behind the beach. As night fell, they were four miles inland. All this was achieved with remarkably few casualties, approximately 200 dead and wounded.
‘When we first came in there was nothing there but men running, turning, and dodging. All of a sudden it was like a beehive. Boats were able to come through the obstacles. Bulldozers were pushing sand up against the seawall and half-tracks and tanks were able to go into the interior. It looked like an anthill.’ –Seabee Orval Wakefield, underwater demolition team.
“I jumped out in waist-deep water. We had 200 feet to go to shore and you couldn’t run, you could just kind of push forward… then we had 200 yards of open beach to cross, through the obstacles. But fortunately, most of the Germans were… all shook up from the bombing and the shelling and the rockets and most of them just wanted to surrender.’ –Sgt. Malvin Pike, 8th Infantry Regiment, US 4th Division.
‘I saw what looked like a low wall ahead, so I crawled for it. … To my right was a dead GI. To my left about 40 yards away were some GIs in the process of regrouping. As I watched, they went over the wall, so I decided to flip over it also. When I looked ahead, there was no more sand; it was a swamp of shallow water. But I was on my way now.’
‘There were… men there, some dead, some wounded. There was wreckage. There was complete confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I picked up a rifle from a dead man. As luck would have it, it had a grenade launcher on it. So I fired my six grenades over the cliff. I don’t know where they went but I do know that they went up on enemy territory.’ –Pvt. Kenneth Romanski, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division. The fear, exhaustion, and determination on the faces of these soldiers hint at the terrors they have already endured.”
“‘When you talk about combat leadership under fire on the beach at Normandy, I don’t see how the credit can go to anyone other than the company-grade officers and senior NCOs who led the way. It is good to be reminded that there are such men, that there always have been, and always will be. We sometimes forget, I think, that you can manufacture weapons, and you can purchase ammunition, but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.’ –Sgt. John Ellery, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division.
In one day, over 150,000 American, British, Canadian, and French troops had entered France by air and sea, at a cost of nearly 5,000 men. From the American airborne on the far right to the British airborne on the far left, the invasion front stretched over 50 miles.
‘I noticed that nothing moved on the beach except one bulldozer. The beach was covered with debris, sunken craft, and wrecked vehicles. We saw many bodies in the water. …We jumped into chest-high water and waded ashore. Then we saw that the beach was literally covered with the bodies of American soldiers wearing the blue and gray patches of the 29th Infantry Division.’ –Lt. Horace Henderson, 6th Engineer Special Brigade, describing Omaha Beach on June 7. The Germans had taken years to build the Atlantic Wall. At Utah Beach, it had held up the U.S. 4th Division for less than one hour.
‘The first night in France I spent in a ditch beside a hedgerow wrapped in a damp shelter-half and thoroughly exhausted. But I felt elated. It had been the greatest experience of my life. I was 10 feet tall. No matter what happened, I had made it off the beach and reached the high ground. I was king of the hill, at least in my own mind, for a moment.’ — Sgt. John Ellery, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division.”
My father, Richard “Dick” Labin, used to watch the old war movies on TV and point out what was right or wrong about the details. He never discussed the horrors he witnessed, the specifics of combat, but he did say that they fought from house to house, hedgerow to hedgerow. He remembered in particular the kindness and generosity of the French people who shared food, wine, and a place to rest. The French farmers and their families were so grateful that the Americans had landed to free them from the Nazi yoke. He also sadly recalled how the beautiful French countryside was destroyed by the war. After the Battle of the Ardennes Forest, for example, the huge forest of old-growth trees, many of which had stood for centuries, was reduced to toothpicks and burning embers. Such was the price of freedom.
“The Battle of Cherbourg was part of the Battle of Normandy, fought immediately after the successful Allied landings on June 6, 1944. American troops isolated and then captured the fortified port, considered vital to the hard-fought campaign in Western Europe, in three weeks. Allied planners knew it would be necessary to secure a deep-water port, to allow reinforcements to be brought directly from the United States. (Without one, equipment packed for transit would first have to be unloaded at a port in Great Britain, unpacked, water-proofed and then reloaded onto landing craft to be transferred to France). Cherbourg, at the end of the Cotentin Peninsula, was the major port closest to the intended landing beaches. The Allied planners decided at first not to land directly on the Cotentin Peninsula, since this sector would be separated from the main Allied landings by the valley of the Douve River which had been flooded by the Germans to deter airborne landings. On being appointed overall land commander for the invasion in January 1944, British General Bernard Montgomery reinstated the landing on the Cotentin peninsula, partly to widen the front and therefore prevent the invaders becoming sealed into a narrow alley, but also to enable the more rapid capture of Cherbourg.
In the early hours of June 6, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Divisions landed at the base of the Cotentin peninsula, securing routes for the U.S. VII Corps to advance from Utah Beach. The U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach shortly after dawn with few casualties. The priority for Allied forces at Utah Beach was to link up with the main Allied landings further west. On June 9, the 101st Airborne Division crossed the flooded Douve valley, and captured Carentan the next day, giving the invaders a continuous front. This success allowed the U.S. VII Corps to drive westward to cut off the Cotentin peninsula. Already, three infantry divisions had landed to reinforce the Corps. Its commander, Major General J. Lawton Collins, drove his troops hard, replacing troops in the front line or sacking officers if progress was slow. The Germans facing him were a mix of regiments and battlegroups from several divisions, many who had suffered heavy casualties fighting the American airborne troops. Practically no armored or mobile troops could be sent to this part of the front because of the threat to Caen further east. Infantry reinforcements arrived slowly. But the Germans’ flooding of the Douve worked against them, because it secured the Americans’ southern flank. By June 16, there were no more natural obstacles to the troops. (Collins commanded my father’s unit).
German command was in confusion: Commanders like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wished to withdraw troops into the Atlantic Wall fortifications of Cherbourg, where they could withstand a siege. Adolf Hitler, issuing orders from East Prussia, demanded that they hold the line, even though this meant disaster. Late on June 17, Hitler agreed to troop withdrawal but ordered a new, illogical defensive line, spanning the entire peninsula south of Cherbourg. Rommel protested, but did dismiss Gen. Farmbacher, commanding the German LXXXIV Corps, who he thought tried to circumvent it. On June 18, the U.S. 9th Infantry Division reached the west coast of the peninsula. Within 24 hours, the 4th, 9th and U.S. 79th Infantry Division were driving north on a broad front, with almost no opposition on the west. On the eastern side, exhausted defenders around Montebourg collapsed. Several large caches of V-1 flying bombs were discovered in addition to a V-2 rocket installation at Brix. In two days, the American divisions were within striking distance of Cherbourg. The garrison commander, Lieutenant General von Schlieben, had 21,000 men but many were hastily drafted naval personnel or from labor units, and the fighting troops who had retreated to Cherbourg were tired and disorganised. Food, fuel and ammunition were short. The Luftwaffe dropped a few supplies, but these were mostly items such as Iron Crosses, to bolster the garrison’s morale. Yet, von Schlieben rejected a summons to surrender and began demolitions to deny the port to the Allies.
Collins launched a general assault on June 22. Resistance was stiff at first, but the Americans slowly cleared Germans from bunkers and concrete pillboxes. On June 26, the 79th Division captured Fort du Roule, which dominated the city and its defenses. Von Schlieben was captured, and harbor fortifications and the Arsenal surrendered after a token resistance. Some Germans cut off outside the defences held out until July 1. The Germans had so thoroughly wrecked and mined the port of Cherbourg that Hitler awarded the Knight’s Cross to Rear Admiral Walter Hennecke the day after he surrendered for “a feat unprecedented in the annals of coastal defense.” The port was not brought into use until the middle of August. Nevertheless, the Germans had sustained a major defeat. General Friedrich Dollman, commanding the German Seventh Army, died of a heart attack on June 28, having just been informed of a court martial pending as a result of the capture of Cherbourg.
“The 26th Infantry Division landed in France at Cherbourg and Utah Beach, but did not enter combat as a division until 7 October. Elements were on patrol duty along the coast from Carteret to Siouxville, 13-30 September, and the 328th Infantry saw action with the 80th Division to which it was attached, 5-15 October. On 7 October the 26th relieved the 4th Armored Division in the Salonnes-Moncourt-Canal du Rhine au Marne sector, and maintained defensive positions; a limited objective attack was launched, 22 October, in the Moncourt woods. On 8 November the division went on the offensive, took Dieuze, 20 November, advanced across the Saar River to Saar Union, and captured it, 2 December, after house-to-house fighting. Reaching Maginot fortifications 5 December, it regrouped, entering Saareguemines 8 December. Rest at Metz was interrupted by the Von Rundstedt offensive.
‘Fighting is from field to field and from hedgerow to hedgerow. Frequently you don’t know whether the field next to yours is occupied by friend or foe. … You rarely speak of advancing a mile in a single day; you say, instead, ‘We advanced 11 fields.’– Staff Sgt. Bill Davidson, combat correspondent, Yank, U.S. Army.
Western Normandy was covered with a maze of hedgerows, thick banks of earth eight to 10 feet high covered with overgrowth and trees. For centuries, local farmers had used hedgerows to mark the boundaries of fields. Now they formed excellent defensive terrain. The Germans had pre-sited mortars and artillery on gaps in the rows. Behind them, they dug rifle pits and tunneled openings for machine guns. The hedgerows had to be taken one by one. The cost in time and casualties proved high.
The division moved north to Luxembourg, 19-21 December, to take part in the Battle of the Bulge break-through. It attacked at Rambrouch and Grosbous, 22 December, beat off strong German counterattacks, captured Arsdorf on Christmas Day after heavy fighting, attacked toward the Wiltz River, but was forced to withdraw in the face of determined enemy resistance; after regrouping, 5-8 January 1945, it attacked again, reached the Wiltz River, and finally crossed it, 20 January. The division continued its advance, took Grumelscheid, 21 January, and crossed the Clerf River, 24 January.
“The 26th then shifted to the east bank of the Saar, and maintained defensive positions in the Saarlautern area, 29 January-6 March 1945. The division’s drive to the Rhine jumped off on 13 March 1945, and carried the division through Merzig, 17 March, to the Rhine, 21 March, and across the Rhine at Oppenheim, 25-26 March. It took part in the house-to-house reduction of Hanau, 28 March, broke out of the Main River bridgehead, drove through Fulda, 1 April, and helped reduce Meiningen, 5 April. Moving southeast into Austria, the division assisted in the capture of Linz, 4 May. It had changed the direction of its advance, and was moving northeast into Czechoslovakia, across the Vltava River, when the cease-fire order was received.
The 26th Infantry Division was in Passau, Germany on August 14, 1945 when World War II was declared over, and was deactivated in Germany. On May 6, 1945, the “Yankee” division overran Gusen concentration camp, which had originally been a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Gusen had been established in 1940 to house Mauthausen prisoners closer to the stone quarries where they were forced to work. As Allied bombing raids on Germany increased in intensity, the Nazi leadership decided to move industrial war production underground, using concentration camp prisoners for labor. At Gusen, the inmates were ordered to hollow out of nearby mountains an elaborate system of tunnels that connected to mammoth subterranean installations for aircraft production. In May 1945, as U.S. troops neared the camp complex, the SS planned to demolish the tunnels with the prisoners inside. The arrival of the 26th Infantry and 11th Armored Divisions prevented the SS from carrying out this atrocity.”
The 26th Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
Casualty figures for the 26th Infantry Division, European theater of operations: Total battle casualties: 10,701. Total deaths in battle: 2,136.
The BRONZE STAR MEDAL–Arguing for creation of an appropriate “ground troops” medal, General George C. Marshall, in a memo to President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated 3 February 1944, wrote “The fact that the ground troops, Infantry in particular, lead miserable lives of extreme discomfort and are the ones who must close in personal combat with the enemy, makes the maintenance of their morale of great importance. The award of the Air Medal have had an adverse reaction on the ground troops, particularly the Infantry Riflemen who are now suffering the heaviest losses, air or ground, in the Army, and enduring the greatest hardships.”
The Bronze Star is awarded for “‘Heroic or meritorious achievement or service’ and The Valor device (clasp)identifies the award as resulting from an act of combat heroism. When awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces. The medal is awarded to a member of the military who, while serving in or with the military of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished him-or her-self by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. Awards may be made for acts of heroism, performed under circumstances described above, which are of lesser degree than required for the award of the Silver Star. Awards may also be made to recognize single acts of merit or meritorious service. The required achievement or service while of lesser degree than that required for the award of the Legion of Merit must nevertheless have been meritorious and accomplished with distinction. To be eligible for the Bronze Star Medal, a military member must be receiving hostile fire/imminent danger pay during the event for which the medal is to be awarded.”
My father was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge, as well as a large number of other medals, most of which were stolen from him when he was recovering in a hospital in Great Britain. After the war, despite my mother’s urging, he refused to ask the Army to replace his medals, preferring to just get on with his life and to attempt to forget the horrors he had witnessed. Only after his death in 2001 did I seek a return of his justly deserved medals because they meant so much to my mother. It took two years but we finally received replacements for most of his medals. It took so long because most veterans’ records from WWII were destroyed in the St. Louis fire in the 1970s. Luckily, we still had my father’s separation papers and had far more information on him than the army did. My father was a hero; like most who served in WWII, he never bragged about it. It is a sad commentary that men and women who give their youths, their lives, their hopes and dreams to our country to protect what we most cherish have been so easily forgotten.
© Copyright 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD