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


First session of Colmar seminar

Last night, the seminar began in earnest. General Sullivan opened the seminar by talking about the “world-class soldiers” who fought in the battle, American and French, citing specific Medals of Honor awarded. This same spirit can be seen in the Army through Korea, Vietnam and today. He specifically mentioned SFC Paul R. Smith of the 3rd Infantry Division, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for action on 4 April 2003 in Iraq that recalls Audie Murphy’s action in WWII.

en Francais:

La nuit dernière, la conférence a commencé dans sérieux. Le Général Sullivan a ouvert la conférence en parlant « des soldats world-class » qui combattu dans la bataille, américain et français, citant les médailles de l’honneur spécifiques a attribué. Cet même esprit peut être vu dans l’armée par la Corée, Vietnam et aujourd’hui. Il a spécifiquement mentionné SFC Paul R. Smith de la 3ème Division d’infanterie, qui a été attribuée la médaille de l’honneur pour l’action le 4 avril 2003 en Irak qui rappelle l’action d’Audie Murphy dans WWII.



Colmar Pocket Seminar Schedule (Updated 24 October)

UPDATED: The schedule has been updated, as Wreaths Across America will be taking place at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday. The wreath-laying will occur Sunday morning.

Once again, Outpost Europe of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division and the Embassy of France will be hosting our Colmar Pocket Seminar and Commemoration. It will be held at the Sheraton National Hotel, 900 South Orme Street, Arlington, VA 22204. Special guests include GEN Frederick J. Kroesen, veteran of the Colmar fighting, (video from last year) and GEN Gordon Sullivan, former Army Chief of Staff and current President of the Association of the United States Army.

This little remembered battle was so vigorously contested that 10 American soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor: Audie Murphy, Charles P. Murray, Ellis Weicht, Bernard Bell, Keith L. Ware, Gus Kefurt, Eli Whiteley, Russell Dunham, Forrest Peden and Jose Valdez. There will be a number of veterans in attendance and their commentary and insights are priceless. The cost for the seminars is a mere $30 and further donations to support the event are always welcome. (Veterans of the Colmar pocket do not pay for the seminars or the banquet.)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

1400-1600 Registration

1730-2100 Reception and Historical Seminar Session I

Friday, 9 December 2011

0900-1130 Seminar Session II

1130-1300 Lunch (no host)

1300-1700 Seminar Session III

1700-1800 Dinner (no host)

1815-2100 Documentary film presentation

Saturday, 10 December 2011

0900-1200 Seminar Session IV

1200-1600 Open Time

1600-1700 Cocktail Hour (no host)

1700 Banquet ($35 per person, separate from the seminar fee)

11 December 2011

0900 Depart for Arlington National Cemetery

0930-1130 Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, 3rd ID Monument and Audie Murphy gravesite

 

Room reservations at the Sheraton are available at a discounted rate. The hotel is located near National Airport (DCA) and there is a free shuttle, so a rental car is not necessary to attend the seminar or to participate in the wreath-laying. There is also a restaurant located in the hotel that many attendees use for the convenience.

Contact Monika Stoy, President of Outpost Europe via email: monikastoy@yahoo.com



T5 Robert Dale Maxwell, MOH

Technician Fifth Grade Robert Dale Maxwell was a “wireman” for the 7th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division in World War II. Outside of Besancon, France, Maxwell and a few other wire men*, armed with only their .45 caliber pistols were defending Colonel Ramsey’s battalion command post against a German attack.

Maxwell trained as a machinegunner, so, naturally, when he arrived at the 3rd Infantry Division, he was placed in a role as a communications wire man. Well, it was probably a good thing that the Army assigned Maxwell to a task other than he’d trained for because it put him in position to save the lives of COL Ramsey and several other men in the battalion command post.

On the evening of 7 September 1944, a number of Germans attacked Ramsey’s command post. Maxwell remembers firing his pistol at muzzle flashes in the tree line, as the enemy was closing range. When the enemy had gotten to about 15 yards away, a grenade landed on Maxwell’s side of the wall. Thinking like SFC Petry did in Afghanistan, Maxwell tried to find the grenade on the ground to toss it back. Since he couldn’t find it right away, he covered it with a blanket and his own body. His foot was badly mangled, some shrapnel hit him in the arm and deflected to his head, and somehow, he got tangled up in a bicycle. His platoon leader helped him to his feet and they made their way back to the battalion aid station, getting knocked down together by another grenade blast.

When they met again 66 years and nine days later, Ramsey finally got to thank him. CPT M0nika Stoy had convinced Maxwell to attend the reunion of the 3rd Infantry Division by telling him that General Ramsey would be there. She’d convinced Ramsey to attend because Maxwell would be there. Unfortunately, the General was ill that day, but CPT Stoy was not deterred. She loaded Maxwell, the mayors of Salzburg, Austria and of Ammerschwir, France and others into vehicles early in the morning, drove them down to Roanoke, Virginia and made the reunion a reality.

After the Operation Dragoon event this year, we were able to have dinner at the Stoy’s house with Mr. Maxwell and some others. He was a real pleasure to spend time with and was headed to France the next day to participate in a number of Liberation celebrations along the route of the 3rd ID. After Maxwell was wounded, the Division captured Berchesgarden** and is planning on visiting there for the first time next year to commemorate that event as well.

It was really an honor to meet Maxwell, and I encourage everyone to consider attending our future events. Next year’s event has already been scheduled for 2-5 August 2012.

*My recollection is that Maxwell said he was aided by James Joyce (whose name stuck in my head) and one other soldier in defense of the command post, but MSNBC states that it was 3 other soldiers.

**There is much controversy over who captured Berchesgarden and Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, with the both 3rd ID, 101st ABD and the French claiming to have captured it.



Fantastic Event, Again

Once again, the Operation Dragoon Commemoration & Seminar has come and gone. It was a marvelous event. There were about a dozen veterans in attendance (I heard 13, but I wasn’t counting heads), including the 4 who were awarded the French Legion of Honor at Arlington Cemetery (Dick Seitz, John Carter, Roy Brumfield and John Keller).

It was an entire weekend of “highlights” for me, so I am thrilled that I got so much of it filmed. Interestingly, both last year’s event and this year’s provided me with about 32GB of raw footage. I expect to post Jim Welsh’s account of being in the drop zone/landing zone with the 551st while the gliders were landing in the next few days. I already posted a picture of Robert Maxwell and I to Facebook, but have a short piece about him in progress as well.

Everyone in attendance was so interested and involved in sharing the history that you couldn’t help but feel closer to everyone by the end of the weekend. While it made parting sorrowful, it also provided an incentive for everyone to return in 2012. Keep August 2-5, 2012 open for the 68th Anniversary.



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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