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


Dahlquist: A first evaluation

In my continued research for our WWII seminars, I’d picked up a copy of Franz Steidl’s Lost Battalions, which details the encirclement of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment just prior to the Battle for the Colmar Pocket. Steidl explains the events leading up to the “losing” of the battalion, making sure that the reader gets a sense of the complexity of the fight of the 36th Infantry Division in the Vosges. He also provides information on a German battalion that was similarly “lost” in the same area, allowing us more insight by seeing both sides.

Steidl has extensively interviewed members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the storied Japanese-American unit that fought to relieve 1/141 when it was trapped, so his book provides excellent detail on their role. It also shaped his original view of General John E. Dahlquist. Many soldiers and historians felt that Dahlquist over-used the 442nd in that fight and some speculated that it was because they were Japanese.

In my initial view of Dahlquist, he seemed a pretty unremarkable man for someone who was awarded a 4th star in 1954. He’d served in the Army since the close of the First World War, attending and teaching in various Army schools. He even authored an Army manual on the machinegun before serving on theatre staff in 1942. Nonetheless, little stood out about him, except a photo of him chatting amiably with Goering after the 36th had captured him. Dahlquist generated quite the controversy with Goering. That photo didn’t look like a captor and his captive, but, rather, two equals conversing. When Goering had been brought to Dahlquist, the General had dismissed his translator, as he spoke fluent German, so perhaps it is what it looked like.

I’d read previously how decimated the 442nd had been in the Vosges and the animosity some of them held for the General. Steidl’s work does reveal how hard Dahlquist pushed them. They were most certainly over-used, but looking at the 36th’s fight, it seems that all of the organic battalions of the 36th were over-used.

The Division had been in the fight since 15 August 1944, without relief. At Montelimar, elements of the Division tried to stop the escape of two German Divisions and elements from every other unit fleeing southern France. The 36th suffered mightily in that fight, though it did inflict many casualties and capture many troops. As it fought north, the Germans took advantage of every piece of terrain, keeping the door open for others to retreat. When the 36th hit the Vosges Mountains, the fight transitioned from some kind of chase into a slugging match. The Germans felt their were fighting on their home ground and the Alsatian towns in the area have a distinctively German look and feel to them. Dahlquist began pleading with higher command for some kind of relief, but there was none.

Steidl recounts multiple instances of Dahlquist coming out to the front lines and one instance of him leading an individual platoon into combat. Personal bravery and a commitment to the fight were not qualities that Dahlquist lacked. His Division was stretched and he was being pushed by higher command to keep moving forward in spite of it.

More than once, Dahlquist seems to have over-extended his Division. At Montelimar, his regiments went in piecemeal, with the 143rd accidentally heading north instead of west to Montelimar, requiring them to loop back west. The Lost Battalion (1/141) pushed beyond the range of its supports. At Sigolsheim, he again had units cut off – they fought until they were forced to surrender. How much of these instances can be blamed on Dahlquist remains to be seen. Shortages of supplies and troops, coupled with aggressiveness, certainly contributed.

Looking at his post-war career, Dahlquist certainly must have impressed the right people and, in war time, that’s usually the sign of a darn good officer. For me, the book is still out on Dahlquist, but he’s far from the enigmatic cypher that I’d first imagined.



Program for 2012 Colmar Pocket Event (Revised 7 December)

Once again, Outpost Europe of the Society of the Third Infantry Division and the Embassy of France are hosting a Battle of the Colmar Pocket Commemoration and Seminar, on 6-9 December 2012 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington Virginia. This event honors the veterans of the 6th Army Group, 1st French Army, XXIst US Corps, 3rd, 28th, 36th and 75th Infantry Divisions and the 12th Armored Division, including 9 Medal of Honor recipients (Charles P. Murray, Ellis Weicht, Bernard Bell, Keith L. Ware, Gus Kefort, Eli Whiteley, Russell Dunham, Forrest Peden, and Jose Valdez).

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: 6-9 December 2012 (Thursday-Sunday)

6 December: 2 to 4 PM – Registration ($30); 5 to 8 PM – Reception and Seminar Session I
7 December: 8 AM to 9 AM – Seminar Session II; 9 AM to  3 PM Visit to Library of Congress and Veteran’s Oral History Project (break for lunch & dinner on your own); 6 PM to 8 PM Seminar Session III & Documentary Film Presentation
8 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 ($35)
9 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.

List of participating veterans will be included later this fall.

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 – $89 per night, one day prior to event and one day after. Reservations: 1-888-627-8210
Reservation Group Name: Colmar Pocket
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, RSVP by 30 November 2012. If you wish to attend, please notify us, but do not wait for confirmation – simply register when you arrive.

REGISTRATION: Event registration – $30. Banquet – $35. (Free for Colmar Pocket Vets)

Scholars: If you are interested in submitting a paper or giving a presentation, contact Monika Stoy, by 30 September 2012.
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, by 30 October 2012. We are still open to sponsorship, but appearance in printed materials may no longer be an option due to time constraints.

REVISIONS: Updated email for Monika.Updated to indicate on-site registration still open (no need to confirm attendance). Friday schedule changed to allow visit to Library of Congress, seminar session III moved from Friday afternoon to Friday evening, Arlington cemetery ceremonies on Saturday instead of Sunday, seminar session IV on Sunday instead of Saturday.



68 years ago
15 August 2012, 08:00
Filed under: 36th, 3rd, 45th, 509th, 517th, 551st, Operation Dragoon | Tags: , ,

On a foggy August morning, paratroopers dropped literally through the clouds and into France. The liberation of southern France had begun and the rapid back-pedaling of German forces was just days away. With bold and heroic efforts, American and British soldiers teamed up with not only French and colonial soldiers, but also ordinary French men and women to set about the freeing of their country from Fascism.

Operation Dragoon is often derided as some sort of ‘Champagne Campaign’, in which the only threat was of being hung over in the morning. Audie Murphy stormed well-defended beaches and never understood the impression. In some places and at some times, the Germans were in such a hurry to save their own hides that it was more of a chase than a battle, but all too often, the deeply hardened old veterans stood and fought. They knew how to use the terrain and how to make the Allies pay for every inch of ground. The veterans of the 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions and among the paratroopers knew to expect nothing less.

It was a hard fight and one for which the French are grateful. Let us pause this morning and give thanks for what they did so long ago.



Understanding Battles: Can a tablet replace my books and maps?

As I prepared for my talk on the 36th Infantry Division at our Operation Dragoon seminar, I’ve had an opportunity to use my new tablet (a Motorola Xoom) to the utmost. It really is a “killer app” for a historian.

My friend, Eric Wittenberg, first wrote about his tentative use of his Nook early last year, then replaced it with an iPad in December. Despite being a software developer in my paid work, I was apprehensive. I love books and maps. The look and feel of each has always been special, and I felt no computer would be able replace them for me.

I tried Kindle, first as a PC app, then on my smartphone. Not the same as a ‘real’ book, but quick and easy. With a library of a few hundred books, I never ventured to read history via Kindle. I had too big of a physical book backlog to consider it.

Then, I needed more detail on the 36th in less than a week. So, I used Google books to buy “First to the Rhine”. I kept flipping pages to review maps, then realized that I could use Google maps on my tablet. Zoom, twist, slide zoom out, add the terrain overlay. I’m sold. I just hope I can figure out how to Bluetooth or connect to the projector with my tablet because it makes understanding the fight at Montelimar so much easier. Maybe this or maybe at the Colmar Pocket seminar in December. It is an amazing tool.

Update: I’ve got a 15-foot mini-HDMI to HDMI cable on order from Amazon so that I can hook to the projector we use at these conferences and to my TV at home for Netflix.



Program for 2012 Operation Dragoon Event

Each year, the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, Outpost Europe, hosts an Operation Dragoon commemoration and seminar. It’s always a fantastic event. We are honored that many veterans attend and provide their insights and remembrances. There will be a few veterans I’ve never met as well as others I will be overjoyed to see again. It’s truly an event not to be missed.

Operation Dragoon – The “Forgotten D-Day”
The Allied Landings in Southern France and the Southern France Campaign
15 August 1944-14 September 1944

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

When: 19-22 July 2012 (Thursday-Sunday)

19 July: 1 to 3 PM – registration; 5 to 8 PM – historical seminar
20 July: 9 AM to 5 PM – historical seminars and veterans’ remembrances
21 July: 8:30 to 1200 AM – ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery; 5 to 9:30 PM – Banquet
22 July: 8:30 to 11 AM – historical seminars

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

Who: Veterans of the 6th Army Group; 7th Army; 6th Corps; 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions; 1st Allied Airborne Task Force; 1st Special Service Force; US Army Air Corps; US Navy and Coast Guard, and their families; French Army Veterans; Veterans from Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, Canada, and France who served in the supporting Air Forces and Navy; and their friends and families.

List of participating veterans includes:

Medal of Honor recipients MSG Wilburn K. Ross, T5 Robert D. Maxwell, and COL Roger Donlon (Viet Nam)

LTG Richard Seitz, LTG David Grange, MG Lloyd Ramsey, COL Morton Katz, COL Henry Bodson, Bill Davis, and Darryl Egner.

Why: To honor the veterans of the Forgotten D-Day, to preserve history, to educate the public, and to pass on the torch of their proud legacy.

Room Reservations: Price – $89 per night, one day prior to event and one day after. Reservations: 1-888-627-8210
Reservation Group Name: Operation Dragoon
Cut off date for reservations: Friday, 6 July 2012

Point of Contact: Monika Stoy, President, Outpost Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, monikastoy@yahoo.com, RSVP by 30 June 2012

REGISTRATION: Event registration – $30. Banquet – $35. (Free for Dragoon Vets)

Shuttle to/from airport provided by hotel, so no rental car required.

Update: I had been especially excited to have the chance to meet Colonel Van T. Barfoot, who made national news with a dispute over flying the flag in his front yard, but unfortunately, the Colonel passed away in March.



Forgotten Operation? Not by these men….

This past week I had Christmas in August. When I went to Normandy in June, I imagined that I would be surrounded by veterans and that I would be able to directly interact with them nearly constantly. I also assumed that I’d be able to find a way to volunteer some of my time while we were there to help some of these men out with mundane logistical or creature comforts during our visit. Sadly, it didn’t turn out like that at all. I did see a few veterans, but got little personal time with them (what interaction I did have was fantastic and emotionally moving for me) and found that the few people we asked about providing help already had it covered.

So, when word reached me that there was going to be an Operation Dragoon event in Arlington during the first few days of August, I immediately reached out to CPT Monika Stoy (USA-Ret) to see if I could help. It was the best idea I’d had in a long time.

The event was being put on by Outpost Europe of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, which meant that CPT Stoy and her husband, COL Tim Stoy, threw themselves and a few volunteers vigorously into it without knowing if anyone would help. I provided only a tiny bit of assistance, but got back far more than I could have imagined possible.

When I arrived late on Tuesday afternoon to see what I could do to help, Monika welcomed me and Tim started showing me the materials they’d gathered for display. While we were looking at some photos, COL Morton Katz wandered up and pointed out Doc Alden (Battalion Surgeon, 509 PIB) in the photo, at which point Tim explained that the reason he recognized COL Katz  was because the fellow standing next to Doc Alden. I was very quietly stunned, as Doyle Yardley’s diaries (see my initial blog entry) remark frequently on Doc Alden’s amorous escapades. It got better when the gentleman standing next to COL Katz turned out to be COL Bill Yarborough’s son, Lee. My head was practically spinning as Lee took me to the front of the room to show off the poster made for his father, which showed the beret and Special Forces knife that he introduced. Then, Lee gave me a coin. It’s the unit coin for the LTG William P. Yarborough Chapter of the Special Forces Association. Quickly, I was invited to dinner and treated as a member of the group. Heady stuff for an amateur historian who never served.

One of our local Boy Scouts, COL Martin Katz, John Devanie and Mrs Katz next to the Audie Murphy memorial

One of our local Boy Scouts, COL Morton Katz, John Devanie and Mrs Katz next to the Audie Murphy memorial.

The next 24 hours were terrific. I showed up a few minutes late for my morning task of helping to transport the colors for the various units over to the amphitheatre at Arlington National Cemetery, but they’d managed to sort things out without me. Curse my lack of punctuality for that. It did, however, give me a chance to hover around the lobby while I awaited the return of our organizers. So, I spoke to Lee Yarborough again, as well as a Colonel and Command Sergeant Major from the 36th Infantry Division. As the veterans gathered, I wandered over and started to chat with COL Katz and John Devanie, who served in the 509th starting with the Avellino drop. I was able to chat with the both of them on and off all day, then got them both to autograph my copy of COL Yardley’s diaries, since it is the only book that I have on the 509th right now.

As a former Scoutmaster, I was overjoyed that a number of Boy Scouts were in attendance and, since I’m used to working with Scouts, I took multiple opportunities to provide encouragement to them, so that they would interact more with the veterans. I remember walking from the 3rd Division memorial to the Audie Murphy memorial and listening to one of the veterans asking his Scout “guide” how his work on his Eagle was going. The veteran explained that there were 21 merit badges required (there still are), but that there were no Eagle Projects back then. His own sons made Eagle and he knew how hard the project was for Scouts. I’m never sure whether Scouts understand how amazing some of the opportunities that being a Scout provides, but I know that having an adult express interest in their progress always makes a difference. That probably magnifies a lot when the interested adult is a hero, and these men are heroes. I may follow up with some of the units so that these guys can get a handle on exactly who the veterans were. Certainly, visiting Audie Murphy’s gravesite had to impress any of them who’ve studied military history, but I’m guessing that none of them knew much in advance about Operation Dragoon.

Donald G. "George" Spears (F/2/517) and his wife

Don G. “George” Spears (F/2/517) and his wife

From the remove of 65 years, details often escape these men. On the other hand, some details never leave you. I asked George Spears during lunch about his unit and his recollections of his D-Day. I wondered if the drop was as screwed up like the one in Normandy, so I asked how long it was before he hooked up with other paratroopers. George said he hadn’t even gotten out of his harness and started assembling his rifle before an officer and a group of men came along the road. He said that you would recognize the officers from other units even if you didn’t know their names, so he joined up with them and spent the next four days as a runner at the Regimental Command Post. They’d lie around near the command post resting, waiting for an assignment, then, when called, head wherever they needed to go. We sat with a few soldiers from Fort Myer, including Specialist Nevarez who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy and had one tour in Iraq. George was honest to a fault, relating when he simply couldn’t remember something. I truly enjoyed our lunch together, especially seeing how much his wife and he look after each other. As I lingered after lunch, I found George’s photo in his uniform posted along the walls, and, you know, he hasn’t changed all that much. Don Spears during WWII(Vimeo of George Spears)

I also got a chance to compliment COL Laura Richardson, who serves as the commander of the Fort Myer Military Community, having served as a Battalion Commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I pointed out that she wear jump wings, served in the 101st and was awarded the Bronze Star. I fumbled and said it was two Bronze Stars, though that does leave out a whole host of other awards and decorations. Of course, since Don was a paratrooper, it was probably unnecessary for me to point out the jump wings. I’d listened to the Colonel speak at the Inter-Service Club Council annual luncheon, held at the Army-Navy Country Club and had become an instant admirer.

During the Tuesday evening historical panel, a number of veterans went up to the front of the room and recounted some of their experiences very briefly. One veteran spoke about a German column they trapped outside Montelimar. The Germans were falling back, with horse-drawn carts, since they had few vehicles. He related that someone had destroyed the head of the convoy and they called in airstrikes that devastated the column. One of the veterans came up to ask about Montelimar later and said he didn’t remember any of that. Historian John McManus was on the panel and asked a few questions. McManus found out that the veteran had been in a Sergeant Connor’s squad (SGT Connor apparently had some incredible exploits on the day of the invasion, though all our veteran could remember was being guided around the minefields by a French partisan when they landed), so in all likelihood, the horror of the devastation of that convoy has blotted the incident from his memory. During our luncheon, an engineer spoke about the terrifying cleanup, which included not just German soldiers, but also many horses and French camp-followers who were retreating with the Germans.

Sometimes, when they spoke of their friends who never came home from southern France, or who didn’t survive the Battle of the Bulge, they paused. Chins would waver and their eyes would get misty. Not a day goes by that these men don’t remember Operation Dragoon, but in our focus on everything else, we sometimes forget. One gentleman recalled that when his Division was preparing to ship back to England later in the war, they were waiting alongside another unit that had fought in Normandy. One of those soldiers, seeing an unfamiliar Division patch shouted out, derisively,  “Where were you guys on D-Day?” The 3rd Division troops, which had landed in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and southern France (5 D-Days!) and responded, “Which one?”

Though my own research will generally focus on Normandy, I will endeavor to remember the efforts of these and other men whose efforts have not been hailed so luminously.




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