We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Veterans announced for 6th Army Group

I met with Tim & Monika to review things in preparation for the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the 6th Army Group in France, which will be held 30 July to 3 August, 2014. As part of the review, I’m able to announce the 14 expected veteran attendees. Yes, FOURTEEN World War II veterans expected.

6th Army Group veterans in attendance will be:

28th Infantry Division: Sam Ieronimo and Robert Phillips
45th Infantry Division: Robert Jackson
517th PRCT: LTG David Grange
36th Infantry Division: Donald Judd and Boyd Lewis (both 142nd Infantry Regiment)
3rd Infantry Division: MG Lloyd Ramsey, Michael Halik, Charles Phallen, Charles Condron, John Keller, John Miller II

We’ll also have two other WWII veterans who’ve attended a number of our prior events: COL John Kormann and COL Frank Cohn.

Our attendance numbers are looking very good, with perhaps 80-90 people participating.

We have confirmed that COL Paul Guajac, a retired French Army Colonel and historian of WWII, is coming from France to speak at the conference. His two best known works are Dragoon, August 15, 1944: The Other Invasion of France and Special Forces in the Invasion of France (Special Operations Series). I will be bringing my copies for signatures.



Dragoon-Colmar Commemoration 2014

In a big step, we’ve combined the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket Commemorations for 2014 into one event, to be held at the Sheraton Pentagon City, 30 July to 3 August, 2014.

In another big step, it has it’s own website – 6thArmyGroup.com

All scheduling information, contact info and updates will be posted there, with supportive posts here.



Program for 2013 Colmar Pocket Commemoration and Seminar

69 years after the vicious fighting in eastern France, Outpost Europe of the Society of the Third Infantry Division and the Embassy of France will again host a Battle of the Colmar Pocket Commemoration and Seminar, on 5-8 December 2013 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington Virginia. This event honors the divisions and veterans of the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, in which Audie Murphy, Charles P. Murray, Ellis Weicht, Bernard Bell, Keith L. Ware, Gus Kefort, Eli Whiteley, Russell Dunham, Forrest Peden, and Jose Valdez received the Medal of Honor. Also among the goals is to educate the public about this little remembered front known as the second Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Colmar Pocket, Alsace, France – The “Other” Battle of the Bulge
December 1944 – February 1945

Outpost Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division
The Embassy of France to the United States

When: 5-8 December 2013 (Thursday-Sunday)

5 December: 2 to 4 PM – Registration ($35); 5 to 8 PM – Reception and Seminar Session I
6 December: 8 AM to 5 pM – Seminar Session II and a historical visit (breaks for lunch & dinner on your own); 6 PM to 8 PM Seminar Session III & Documentary Film Presentation
7 December: 10:15 AM to 12 AM – ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery: wreath laying at Tomb of the Unknowns, 3ID Monument, Audie Murphy gravesite; 12 AM to 4 PM Open time; 4 PM to 5 PM Cocktail Hour (no host); 6 PM Banquet ($40)
8 December: 9 AM to 11:30 AM – Seminar Session IV

Where: Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel, 900 South Orme Street, Arlington, VA 22204

Who: Veterans of the 3rd, 28th, 36th, and 75th Infantry Divisions; 12th Armored Division; XXIst US Corps; French Army Veterans; and their friends and families.

Why: To honor the veterans of the Colmar Pocket, to preserve history, to educate the public, and to pass on the torch of their proud legacy.

Room Reservations: Price – $95 per night, two days prior to event and one day after. Reservations: 1-888-627-8210
Reservation Group Name: Colmar Pocket, Cutoff date 26 November
Shuttle to/from airport provided by hotel, so no rental car required.

Point of Contact: Monika Stoy, President, Outpost Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, timmoni15@yahoo.com

Note that there is no limit on number of attendees, so even if you do not get an immediate confirmation, there WILL be space for you at the event. Make your travel plans and we will ensure everything works out.

REGISTRATION: Event registration – $35. Banquet – $40. (Free for Colmar Pocket Vets)

Sponsors: If you are interested in sponsoring an event at the conference (the banquet, opening reception on Thursday or the cocktail hour on Saturday, for example) or advertising in the event brochure, contact Monika Stoy, timmoni15@yahoo.com



On Green Beach

In our recent trip to southern France, I did manage to squeeze in some time down at Green Beach, where most of the 36th Infantry Division came ashore. Since our stay in France was focused on two weeks in Avignon, Green Beach was quite a long drive – over two hours from our lodgings. The short trip up to the Montelimar battle square was far shorter.

36th BeachWe drove into the area Frejus, having used the A8 highway to come east from Avignon. Having spent a lot of time in rural France, enjoying the quaint and quiet villages, Frejus itself is something of a shock. We kept saying to each other how much it reminded us of going to Ocean City or the Outer Banks of North Carolina, since it was so Americanized. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say Americanized, just commercialized. The long plage in front of St. Raphael is a marvelous sandy beach and bikini-clad ladies parade past statues to the Senegalese troops, to General de Lattre de Tassigny and to Charles DeGaulle. It’s hard to argue with the people enjoying the beaches that were used in the liberation of France, since the soldiers fought exactly so that the beaches could be used this way. It’s still a little jarring to see a band playing for a crowd next to the statues of 5 soldiers who landed here.

Nonetheless, seeing Frejus Bay, you can understand how this soft sandy beach could have been a nightmare to assault. With the curve of the coastline and the rough terrain on anything that is not a sandy beach, you’d be landing troops into a kill zone. As they’d attack into Saint Raphael, they’d be exposing their backs to gun positions directly to their west. Since the remote-controlled explosive boats sent in to attempt early destruction of the obstacles were unsuccessful (radio interference likely helped scramble the signals and lead to some of these “drone” boats heading back at the fleet instead of into the beach), the Navy wisely decide to divert the planned landing of the 142nd Infantry Regiment from Red Beach and land them on Green Beach, secured hours earlier with the landings of the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 141st Infantry Regiment.

Green BeachBecause the 142nd diverted to Green Beach, where the 143rd Infantry Regiment had followed the landings of the 141st, all of the troops of the Division, other than the 1st Battalion of the 141st, ended up landing on Green Beach. So, it comes as no surprise that when it came time to commemorate the landing of the Division in France, that the monument went up on Green Beach. Of course, when we go to the parking area, I had to race to the beach first (and not just because there was a restroom down there, but that did spur me forward).

The shocker: it’s not a sandy beach. The entire landing area is covered with gallets, stones from the size of your hand to the size of your head. Needless to say, on the day that all the other beaches were swarmed with sun-worshippers, this beach had only a few dozen families. Melissa and I took off our shoes and gingerly approached the water, standing to allow the waters of the Mediterranean to wash over our feet. I raised my hands and shouted, “Lafayette, nous sommes ici!”

The map above does not at all convey what the terrain in the area is like. It’s rocky and hilly, imposing and difficult terrain, even with modern roads in place. Looking at the arrows on that map, you get no sense whatsover of how challenging the route along the coast eastward to Cannes really is. Some the materials I’ve read point out the challenge facing the 141st heading along that road. If you drive it, you can certainly understand how a few determined soldiers with machineguns and some explosives could halt a battalion-sized advance. The Germans, having been at war for half of a decade were experts at such actions. Thus, in this terrain, and later in the war in the Vosges Mountains, during the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, small groups in an army which some thought was already beaten, could inflict devastating casualties. This may help explain why, when General Truscott visited General Dahlquist’s headquarters during the battle of Montelimar, saw the terrain and the condition of the 36th Infantry Division troops and refrained from relieving Dahlquist on the spot.

As I find so often, when you walk the ground, you gain an understanding that is simply impossible to acquire from books and maps. I wish we’d had more time at Green Beach and been able to visit the drop zones, but mostly, I wish we’d been able to do so with a guide. I could relate some of what I’d read to the places, but it really takes significant study of the history and the terrain to be able to do more than scratch the surface.



Visiting the battle box at Montelimar

As I’ve said many times, there is no substitute for walking the ground. Looking at maps, reading unit/battle/campaign histories, or even using my new favorite tool, my tablet, never give you the same understanding as actually being on the ground where the fight took place.

We’re over in France and this time we’ve come to the south. This has given me an opportunity to walk the ground at Montelimar. Before we arrived, I’d contacted retired French Army Colonel Pierre Balliot to see if he could recommend a guide. He volunteered himself, driving 200+ kilometers to show us the ‘battle box’. The Colonel has written a marvelous book, of which I now possess a signed copy, entitled La Drome dans la Guerre: La bataille de Montelimar, which details the battle. So, my wife, our friend Tom and I got a half-day tour of the 20 km by 20 km ‘battle box’ in which Task Force Butler, the 36th Infantry Division and French partisans attempted to block the escape of 130,000 men of the German Army from southern France.

The battle of Montelimar had the same goal as the sealing of the Falaise Pocket in Normandy, trapping an entire Army Group. So, for me, the Battle of Montelimar is the most important action of the campaign.

Walking the ground here, you get a far better sense of why they chose the ground they did, what worked and what did not. The first thing to note is the height of the high ground. While the tablet and Google maps did point out the value of Hill 300, it gave no real sense of the true height or the slope. Somehow, I thought of 300 feet when I read about the Hill. It’s 300 meters or about 1000 feet. The slope is also extreme, making it difficult to dislodge any defenders. The Hill is so tall and long that it completely shields any troops coming up the Rhone valley through that choke point from observation or attack from the east. While there is plenty of high ground north of this, none overlooks such a tight passage as this. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there was tremendous fighting at La Coucourde, where the main road, Route Nationale 7, emerges from behind Hill 300 and where General Truscott had directed General Dahlquist to ‘put the cork in the bottle’, entrapping so many Germans.

Dahlquist and Butler faced many challenges here. The terrain that provided such an opportunity was itself a great challenge. The mountains restricted movement, inhibited communication, and provided endless opportunities for ambush. The narrow roads were difficult for armored vehicles and the slopes a great challenge as well. The vast distance from the landing beaches made resupply slow and the lack of sufficient transport compounded that.

The rivers helped, but not nearly as much as one would think when looking at the map. Walking the ground at the same time of the year, you see how low they are, how much vegetation would conceal movement and how challenging defending along those lines would be. Looking out from Dahlquist’s headquarters you see how broad a front he needed to defend.

Dahlquist himself may have been a part of the problem, never seeming to move fast enough for Truscott’s taste – Truscott flew to his headquarters twice during this campaign to hasten him along.

The few troops that reached the fight first shocked the Germans, but a few hundred men, even at strategic points, can only do so much to stop an Army Group.



Task Force Butler turns to block

According to the history of the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, on the 19th, Truscott prepared to set his trap at Montelimar, sending Task Force Butler to block the route of escape for the Germans. General Dahlquist of the 36th Infantry Division would receive the orders, but not General Butler.

As we’ve noted, Task Force Butler was an ad hoc unit and the headquarters had no equipment of it’s own. It was simply superimposed and co-located with the 117th’s command group. This meant that communications equipment had to be scrounged and, with the difficulties of communications in mountainous terrain, they were doubly-challenged. (I expect the same problems are experienced in Afghanistan today.) As such, Butler continued acting on his prior orders (which labelled Grenoble as his goal) and reacted to emerging threats (an apparent German threat against Gap). So, Task Force Butler was also not quite prepared to shift toward Montelimar.

“at 2045 hours on August 20th[, 1944], he [Truscott] radioed specific instructions to Butler directing him to move to Montelimar at dawn with all possible speed. He was to seize the town and block the German routes of withdrawal. The 36th division would follow the Task force ASAP. Truscott then sent Lt. Col. Conway of his G-3 Section with more specific written instructions, instructing Butler to seize the high ground immediately north of Montelimar before dark that day, but not the city itself.”

While the history indicates that Butler gathered his troops at “Apres” before heading west to Crest, I suspect they mean Aspres-sur-Buëch located just north of Sisteron and at an intersection of roads heading to Sisteron, Gap, Grenoble and Crest. Butler basically had only his reconnaissance squadron (and not all of that) to send west.

Crossing the DromeBy afternoon, C/117 had attacked from Crest toward the Rhone near Livron, destroying a convoy of over 50 vehicles and sowing panic among those troops. B/117 would move into the heights along the N-7 highway, providing them a vast shooting gallery as the German 19th Army retreated northward. Unfortunately, this meant General Butler had two reconnaissance troops (with his third, “A” Troop hurrying over from the deployment to Gap) and some artillery to face every German stationed in the south of France. The mountainous terrain and rivers would aid him, but the odds were against them.

As MAJ Volpe’s map indicates, Butler’s men were spread widely as the Germans came streaming north, with most of the weight in the still-intact 11th Panzer Division.



Reunion Report: Anzio 69th Anniversary

8 WWII veterans, seatedAs I’d mentioned, I was able to attend the reunion of the Anzio Beachhead Veterans over the past few days, and it was a wonderful experience. Having helped with the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket events, I was already familiar with the logistics of wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown, so I was able to be more helpful than I’d expected.

One of the first things we did on arriving at the Amphitheatre was to visit Audie Murphy’s gravesite, which is right across the street. We were able to get the four veterans who would be in the wreath-laying grouped around Murphy’s headstone for photos. There were a dozen or so other visitors who happened along at the same time and our veterans got a wonderful experience of being “rock stars” with gratitude from everyone and requests for photos. It was a wonderfully heart-warming experience for me, seeing these men thanked and seeing the tourists get such a treat – to meet men who served with Murphy when visiting his gravesite.

I was able to bring along my own M1 Garand to the banquet and in this photo, you can see George holding what they all remembered as having been a far lighter weapon 69 years ago. George had enlisted in the Army and been assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment. Yes, George was a Buffalo Soldier, but when the Regiment reached North Africa, it wasn’t long before the Army decided to break up the unit. George ended up as a Sergeant in the 401st Port Company, unloading ships at the Anzio beachhead among many other places. He ended up making a career of the Army, retiring in 1967 as a Major, having served 24 years.

To George’s right is Billie Stone of the 39th Combat Engineers. Billie’s unit was, like George’s, not organically part of a specific larger unit, so they moved wherever the engineering work, or at times, the need for riflemen, was found.

Louis Kinofsky, C Company, 133rd Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, asked at the banquet when I handed him the M1 if he was going to get to take it home. Fortunately, he has one of his own there, so I get to keep mine. He had a lot of interesting stories, suggesting that when I read certain veteran memoirs, I take things with a very large grain of salt.

I sat with Frank and his wife at dinner and he related that despite this being the 34th reunion held by the Anzio veterans, it was the first he’d attended. Shortly after the war, He’d been to a few reunions of his unit, but since they’d always been held in the same location, after a few years, numbers dwindled as people hadn’t wanted to always visit the same place.

Ralph Joe Reid also served in the 34th Infantry Division, having arrived as a replacement before the Battle of Monte Cassino. When I sat talking to Joe on Thursday night, we talked about the aftermath of that battle. When his company was relieved by an Indian unit (I guessed Gurhkas, but am not sure), Joe, 13 other men and Captain Garfield were all that were left of his company. He also heaped praise on the 3rd Infantry Division, as the 34th replaced the 3rd and enjoyed their well-constructed foxholes in the Anzio perimeter. Joe said it was like living in the Sheraton after having only piles of rocks as protection at Cassino.

Current President of the organization, Ed Benezech, was a field artilleryman in the 141st Field Artillery Battalion, but when I had him pose with the M1 for photos in front of the organization, he went through an impromptu manual of arms. He’d drilled men with the rifle enough times that he felt completely comfortable with it.

John Boller, second from the left, is a former President of the group and it was through John’s notices in the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division newsletter, Watch on the Rhine, that I’d learned about the reunion. Without John, I’d have never known about it. His service with the 3rd ID during the war has continued in these decades since, and, as I said, seeing John explain to those tourists that he’d served with Murphy (though not known him personally) is a memory I’m sure they will treasure, as I know I will.

Among the issues discussed over the weekend was the continuing existence of the organization. With so few veterans still living, these organizations are turning to the children and grandchildren of the veterans. The organization’s modern website was designed by Bob Rickmeyer and we were joined by Barb Bossi and her brother, who have started work on a Anzio Families website that everyone will work to integrate into the existing setup. Hopefully, the energy of everyone can be harnessed for a grand reunion down in Orlando to celebrate the 70th anniversary next year.

At the far left of the photo is Louis Amato, who’d served as a medic in the 45th Infantry Division and then continued serving as a medic in POW camps after he’d been captured. Like most of these men, he’s quite a spark plug, the energy and humor bursting from him.

As I attend these reunions and meet these men, I am always struck by the obvious bonds they have for each other. While none of them knew each other during the war and some hadn’t met the others even before this event, they’d all been the same places and seen the same dangers. In the years since, those experienced shaped them, but when they have the chance to be around others who understand, it’s always good. Sitting with them and talking, knowing some of the context or being able to let them handle their weapons or uniforms from the war brings them to a comfort level where, as Joe said to me Thursday night, they can talk about things they’ve not spoken of for 69 years. Sometimes, their eyes light up and they speak with great animation about their comrades and the good times, or they pause, remembering those who never came home.

At a dinner party once, a woman asked me how I could devote so much study to something so terrible as war. For me, it’s the stories about people. While I enjoy studying the campaigns and knowing which units went where, the truly compelling thing is the people. War brings out extremes of the human condition – men doing terrible things and men doing completely selfless things.

“It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.”




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