(This “Chapter” is devoted to relating some of the stories that are keyed to the “Individual.” Like many of the articles that have been reproduced, I found it hard to determine into which chapter I should place it. eg: “Unit History,” or “Individual History.” ... CUB Review editor, 1991)
Lt. Col. Tom Riggs' Remarkable WWII Odyssey
From the Providence Journal, December 30, 1985:
By John Hanlon, special to the Journal‑Bulletin
Tom Riggs fights a different battle now. Last September (1985) the 69 year‑old Riggs underwent surgery for the removal of a cancerous lung. (another operation in 1987) He is recuperating these days with the aid of his wife, Virginia, in Providence. The post operative process goes well, and Tom looks ahead optimistically. He is a former Textron executive, now a management consultant, and a director of several companies, work that is largely on hold.
The ailment and its treatment have taken a toll on Riggs' weight and vigor. Still the marks are there of a big, handsome man of commanding presence ‑ such as the young Riggs out of West Virginia who, at 6'‑3" and 225 pounds, was a captain and star tackle of the University of Illinois football team of 1940. The same year he played in the Blue Gray game, captaining the Blue team. Later the Washington Redskins could not understand his lack of response to written offers to play for them at $250 a game.
He didn't answer because by then he was in the Army as a reserve second lieutenant. And before long, by competitive exam he won one of six appointments available as a Regular Army officer in the Corps of Engineers.
Then, Tom Riggs was thrust into the other big battle of his life.
It began in the “bitter woods” of the Ardennes in Belgium, where, at age 28, Lt. Col. Thomas J. Riggs Jr., was commander of the 81st Combat Engineer Battalion of the 106th Infantry Division. His 650 men and officers had been well trained and kept together as a unit back in the States, whereas the division's first crop of infantrymen had been drained off as fillers for outfits already fighting in Europe. In their place came the first of the 18‑year‑old draftees, plus others taken from specialists schools and made foot soldiers ‑ not exactly willingly. Sparsely trained, they comprised essentially, the greenest of the green divisions when the 106th went on line in northeastern Belgium on 12 Dec., 1944.
This was the time of General Eisenhower's “calculated risk” in defending the area. Normally, a division is assigned to a five mile front to defend.
The 106th Division's front extended for some 27 miles. But no German action was anticipated.
“When we took over from the veteran 2nd Division,” Riggs recalled recently, “they said it was a country club, a great place for a new outfit to break in.”
Four days later, at 5 a.m. on Dec 16th, heavy artillery shells slammed into the 106th Division around the town of St. Vith. Hitler had unleashed his last‑ditch offensive. Tanks and infantry in huge numbers began breaking through all along the division's area, with the main thrust headed directly at St. Vith. To the east of St. Vith, closest to the attackers, was Tom Riggs.
On the second day, with battle confusion almost chaotic, Riggs was ordered to block the prime road into St. Vith with a hastily formed “Cox's Army,” as he later called it. He had about 350 men, parts of his own outfit not already fighting, remnants of routed outfits, some of the division's cooks and band members and a tank destroyer platoon so new its three guns were not yet equipped with aiming sights. (The entire platoon, sent off by Riggs for its first action, simply disappeared.)
With this “army” Riggs directed operations that held back a superior force for five days. He personally led several counterattacks that steadied his positions; he stalked the line boldly so his troops could see that he was still there, encouraging scared soldiers to hold on.
As a division, the 106th fought doggedly before being overwhelmed. For five days they stalled the Germans around St. Vith, which was 25 miles closer to the enemy than Bastogne, the defense of which epitomized the American effort in the Bulge. But if it had not been for the 106th which lost 70 percent of its 12,000 some people killed, wounded and captured, there might not have been time to put together a Bastogne.
For all their greenness and ultimate fate, the 106th Division won even the admiration of British General Bernard Montgomery, not given to generally praising American troops. In his best English manner, Monty said of the 106th after the battle, “By Jove, they stuck it out those chaps.”
Riggs' battalion, for its part, was awarded the Unit Citation, a medal not easily gained. The commendation told of the 81st's “extraordinary heroism, gallantry and determination... setting the battalion apart and above other units participating in the same engagement.”
Riggs himself received the Silver Star and, additionally, an unusual compliment in a Saturday Evening Post article published about two years later detailing the story of the 106th Infantry Division.
“All combat troops are pretty skeptical of decorations,” the Post story said in part, “knowing too well that too many acts of high valor go unrewarded because an officer did not happen to be around to file a report. But the 106th's soldiers to a man, are unanimous in agreeing that Lt. Col. Thomas Riggs... was the outstanding hero of the division.”
On the sixth day of the battle, Germans with tanks were so close to Riggs' position, he said, that he could hear them talking at times. The weather was freezing cold and it was snowing.
“The only hope we had left,” Riggs said, “was to break up into small groups, travel by night and try to infiltrate out of there.”
At dawn on Dec. 21, with seven men, no maps, no food and little ammunition, Riggs' group headed out. He wore the standard wool uniform and only the liner of his trench coat. He removed his insignia of rank and discarded his helmet, the latter because of the noise made by rubbing against branches.
“The first day we stayed out of trouble,” Riggs said, “But the second night, moving along a creek line someplace west of St. Vith, we ran into a platoon or so of Germans. They surrounded us and then mortared us.”
A fragment grazed Riggs on the back of the head, enough to break the skin but not cause any lasting damage," he said. But the impact knocked him out. When he came to, several Germans were standing close to him. He was a prisoner of war.
Prisoner of War
The Germans marched him to an assembly point where about 40 other Americans ‑ none from his outfit ‑ were under guard. Soon they were put on the road, marching toward a railhead, they were given to understand. So began Tom Riggs' odyssey.
The march continued for 12 days, covering 110 miles eastward to Stalag to a railhead in the direction of Berlin. (probably Stalag 12‑A at Limburg ‑ CUB ed's note.)
Their treatment as prisoners, Riggs said, was “fairly brutal.”
“We'd stop near a village, and the guards would go in and forage for food for themselves,” he said. “for us there was mainly hardtack and snow. But the guards would come back with sandwiches for themselves. They'd eat them and throw the crusts to us. After a while, I'm sorry to say, there'd be some groveling for the remains. Part of it, I think, was done to get even with us. With all the bombings we, the Allies, were doing, it didn't leave the Germans with much to eat themselves. So I think they took delight in watching us grovel like a pack of dogs for the crusts.”
“At that point, anything” that was happening to Riggs was made worse by the letdown at being taken prisoner.
“I guess that was the lowest I ever felt in my life” was the way he expressed it. “I had hardly eaten or slept during the fighting at St. Vith. Then, with the march, cold and being have starved, I guess I was down to about 170 pounds. I just felt beaten into the ground.”
Lost his outfit
Something else was eating away at him. He was a commanding officer who had been taken away from his outfit.
“I was absolutely embarrassed,” Riggs said. “I felt I had lost a lot of guys. I felt I had not done the job I was given to do, and that hurt. I couldn't understand why we had no advance information of that attack coming, and little or none of the help we had asked for. At that point in time I had no knowledge of any purpose served in the loss of those guys with me. I think I was on the way to becoming a basket case, mentally. That lasted for a few years after the war, when I learned that what we had done at St. Vith helped.”
At the railhead the prisoners were put in freight cars. A couple of days later they arrived at a prison camp ‑ Stalag 4‑B (IV-B) ‑ outside of Berlin.
(Stalag 4‑B is Northwest of Dresden approx. 35 miles, on the Elbe River, and approx. 75 miles South of Berlin, near the town of Mühlberg ‑ CUB editor's note)
Riggs was there for about 10 days, during which, he said, he “kind of just observed things.” One conclusion he reached was that the Americans were not as “good” as the British at being prisoners of war. A lot of Americans, he said, seemed satisfied just to sit on the sidelines, as if at a football game, waiting for it to end.
“But the British were always doing something to bedevil the Germans,” he said. “One time, for example, they got hold of a length of wire. They ran it down one post of a two‑tiered bunk and covered it loosely with tape ‑ on purpose, so the Germans would be sure to find it.
“Then they snaked the wire through the floor and, underneath, dug a hole about eight feet deep and put the wire in it. At the bottom they placed an envelope with a message inside it, filled the hole up and settled back to see what the Germans would do.
“Well, they spotted it a day or two later. They were really delighted with themselves, figuring they had found something to do with a radio.
“So, they cleared out the barracks, and they followed the wire to the ground underneath. They then dug out the hole and came to the envelope. Now they were really elated. They opened the envelope, thinking they were on something big, and read the message. Written in German was the one word. ”S—‑."
Riggs said he was interrogated “pretty hard” at Stalag 4‑B.
“They'd try to compromise me.” he said. “by saying the others had given some kind of information and asked me to verify it. I said only what I was required to say: name and serial number. That infuriated them a few times, and I was hit across the back with a riding crop for my stubbornest. After 10 days, possibly as my punishment, I was sent off alone by truck to a camp in Poland. It was somewhere near Poznan which is roughly halfway between Berlin and Warsaw.
Prisoner in Poland
There Riggs lived in a two‑story barracks with outside facilities, with older Germans as guards. Food was sparse, mostly ersatz bread and soup. He said the treatment there was generally “not that bad.”
Twice, in keeping with prisoner protocol, he proposed plans for his escape. Both were turned down by the senior officer among the captives. In one case, he was told, he must wait his turn; the other was such that it might cause trouble for those left behind.
“I still had enough drive left in me, though, that I absolutely wanted to get back and see what happened to my outfit,” he said. “Also a rumor started that the Russians had taken Warsaw and that the Germans were going to march us out of Poland and back to Germany. I decided I wasn't going to have any of that.”
Just before dawn on his 28th day in the camp, Riggs left his barracks for the latrine. He noticed immediately that the usual guard was not in sight. Spontaneously, without prior planning, he decided that his chance to escape might be there.
“I walked straight to a deserted mess hall, a few buildings away, near the wire fence,” he said. “I went inside. In a corner was a walk‑in ice chest, seven or eight feet tall. I climbed on top of it and rolled back until I was snuggled up against a wall, and I lay there.
“In a while, I could hear the Germans taking a roll call. My name was the second one called. When there was no answer, I could hear all hell breaking loose. Then the search was on. Four or five times patrols came through the mess hall. One of them even had dogs with them, barking like hell. Each time, the guards opened the ice chest doors and looked in. But nobody checked on top.” After a long, cold day, Riggs left his hideout when darkness fell. He clocked the routine of the German patrols passing outside the double barricade of barbed wire.
“I soon figured out how often they came by the place I would have to go.” he said. “Then something said to me, 'This is the time to move,' and I went for it. I don't remember exactly how I did it, except that I didn't go over the wire, I just went through it' somehow. Only after I was out did I notice that I was terribly chewed up by it.”
He was still wearing only his regular uniform, the coat liner and a scarf to cover his head. His only plan was to travel at night, checking road signs at major intersections that would point his way to Warsaw. His physical condition was scarcely up to the task.
“The first night I walked in the scrub beside the road,” Riggs said. “By the second night I was so weak and tired and cold and frustrated that I said to hell with it and walked right out in the middle of the road. I was challenged twice by guttural voices. But I just put my head down and kept moving.. and got away with it.
“The third night I came to the outskirts of Poznan, and I knew it was too big for me to get through unnoticed. As I was sitting on a culvert in the shadows, I saw a small group coming toward me down the road. I faded through a fence and lay there. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was a guy challenging me. ”I'm an American colonel," I said. With that this guy threw his arms around me and kissed me on both cheeks.
“It turned out that he was a teenager, a member of the Polish underground, and so were the people coming down the road. One of them spoke good English. They took me to a house in Poznan and filled me with potatoes and that great Polish sausage and warm milk, things I hadn't seen in two months.I ate and ate ‑ and then upchucked.”
The Russians arrive
The underground moved Riggs from house to house for about a week. Then the Russians arrived, and Riggs' Polish friends put him in the hands of a Russian colonel commanding an armored unit fitted with mostly American made equipment.
“He was a burly man who couldn't read or write his own language,” Riggs said. “but he could fight. First thing he said to me was, ”Come on, Americanski, I'll have you in Berlin in a couple of weeks and you can meet your own people."
Riggs fought and lived with the Russians for 10 days, an experience that left him with a warm feeling for Russian hospitality and a certain awe for their fighting style.
“At night the colonel would take over the biggest house in the village,” Riggs said, “and there would be plenty of scrounged food to eat and a lot of vodka to drink. When he noticed I didn't have an insignia of rank, he had a mechanic make one out of a bottom of a mess kit.” It is a perfect replica of an American lieutenant colonel's silver leaf, which Riggs still has as a cherished souvenir.
As for fighting, Riggs recalled the time the Russians encountered a single German tank.
“Instead of firing at it,” he said, “ they put 20 soldiers on a stake‑bodied truck and they went after it. They just swarmed all over it and literally beat it to death, It was scary, the lack of fear they showed but that's how they did it.”
The Russian episode ended when the word came to have Allies such as Riggs returned to Warsaw. The Russian colonel took him part way and he completed the trip by train. At Warsaw he spent about 10 days putting his engineering training to work in helping rehabilitate a displaced persons camp. The odyssey resumed.
From Warsaw, Riggs traveled some 750 miles on a Russian‑manned, wood fueled train to Odessa on the Black Sea. There he talked his way onto a British tanker for the 500‑mile lift to Istanbul, Turkey. The tanker captain passed him onto a British freighter bound to Port Said in Egypt, some 1,000 miles away and considerably off Riggs' course. It turned out well enough, though, because at Port Said, with the help of the Red Cross, he caught a ride on the troopship Mauritania, heading some 1,800 miles to Naples, Italy.
There for the first time in nearly three months, Riggs checked in with the American military. When he spoke of his desire to rejoin his 81st Engineers, the reply he received was crushing.
“They told me flatly that Army policy forbid me going back there,” he said. “Anyone in my situation, they said, was automatically sent home on a 60‑day medical furlough. Something about the danger to escaped prisoners of war being captured again, or the possibility that they may have been compromised by the enemy.
“I didn't know exactly what that all meant,” he said. “But I told them, ”if you don't let me go back to my people, you are going to have a basket case on your hands."
“They relented, finally, because of the way I put it, I guess. Also by then ‑ this was early in March ‑ there were signs the war was beginning to wind down. They said I could go back.”
Back to the unit
He was flown to Marseilles, France, then to Paris for a few days of rest and a debriefing he found almost laughingly inept and shallow.
“My first night in Paris, though, something unbelievable happened to me. ”I went to a bar frequented by Americans. I had just taken a seat when a man from my outfit ‑ the last person I'd seen around St. Vith ‑ came over and stuck his big nose in my face. “You big devil,' he said, 'we've been looking for you or your remains ever since.”
A day or two later, Riggs was driven to a place in Brittany" ‑ no more than 350 miles west of his point of capture. There the 106th division, including his 81st Engineers, was refitting before taking over the containment of a German garrison holding out in the vicinity of St. Nazaire.
The reunion, when it came after so long a trail for Riggs, was simple in its way. Tom Riggs' words could only touch on its full impact, and his description of it was spoken in a quiet and almost distant voice.
“When I walked into the 81st's headquarters,” he said, “everyone was astonished to see me. My place had been kept open, and a major, my second in command, came roaring out from behind the desk and we hugged. I was a little broken up, all right, and so were the others. Then we had a big party, with a lot of story telling. The party lasted all night long.”
Tom Riggs was assigned to the American Embassy in Mexico as a Military Attaché, after the war. In 1947, he resigned his commission to enter private business.
His 81st Engineers never did get back to the fighting, because the 106th was given a different assignment. Instead of taking up positions around St. Nazaire, the division was sent in late spring to the Ruhr Valley to round up and process German prisoners... nearly one million of them by the time the task was done.
Ironically, Riggs' task was to supervise his Battalion in the construction of barbed‑wire compounds to hold the German prisoners.
Colonel Riggs ‑ CO 81st Eng. ‑ Illini “MAN of the YEAR”
a reprint from the Providence, Rhode Island Journal Bulletin of November 29th, 1989.
by Bill O'Connell
Special to the Journal‑Bulletin
Providence's Tom Riggs knows what it is like to fight for his life. He has had to fight many times in his 73 years. Yet he sees himself as being “terribly lucky.”
That view says a lot about what type of man Tom Riggs is. For it is not “terribly lucky” to have fought on the front line during one of World War II's fiercest battles. And it is not “terribly lucky” to have been a prisoner of war or to have faced cancer surgery twice in two years.
Tom Riggs has gone through all these things and survived. That could be deemed lucky. Still, if one word is needed to describe Tom Riggs, it would not be “lucky.” It would be courageous."
For his heroic efforts during World War II's Battle of the Bulge, Riggs was recently recognized as Illinois University's “I” Man of the Year. The award goes annually to a former Illini athlete who has achieved honor or distinction in a chosen field or occupation. The award was presented at a banquet on November 10 and again before the Illinois football game against Michigan the following day, Veteran's Day.
On that Saturday, before a crowd of 73,000, Riggs marched out on the field he had played on over 49 years earlier. The flag was raised. The national anthem was played. Three fighter pilots made a fly‑by in Riggs' honor. The latter was a surprise that brought a tear to the veteran's eye.
After the aerial tribute, a declaration describing Riggs' achievements was read. During the statement's delivery, the crowd was very quiet.
“Then suddenly, they let go with a tremendous shout that lasted a long time,” Riggs said a few days later while sitting in the den of his East Side home. “I had forgotten what that (the crowd) had meant in my playing days.”
Riggs was first cheered on an Illinois football field in 1938. That year he earned the first of his three varsity letters. In 1940, his final season, he was elected the team's captain. He also captained the Blue team that year in the annual Blue‑Gray college All‑Star game.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Riggs was considered a large tackle in his day. The 1940 edition of Football Illustrated, rated him as a Star of the West and called him 'One of those rock‑ribbed, natural tackles who knows what to do, and does it."
As was the norm then, he played both offense and defense.
“I averaged 58 minutes a game for three years in the Big Ten,” Riggs said.
And he made the most of those minutes, playing well enough to draw an offer from the Washington Redskins in the fall of 1941. Riggs, however, could not accept their $250‑a‑game bid because he was then in the Army. He had graduated from Illinois' College of Engineering in February of '41 as a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers Reserve and had been called to active duty that May.
In December of 1944, at the age of 28, Riggs was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 81st Combat Engineers Battalion of the 106th Infantry Division on the Belgium border outside the town of St. Vith. The 106th was a young and inexperienced outfit that had been sent to a sector of the front designated as quiet. It did not remain quiet very long.
On December 16, less than a week after it had gone on line, the 106th was hit with an intense attack by the Germans. The next day Riggs, the 225‑pound, rock‑ribbed left tackle, was charged with blocking the main road into St. Vith.
For five days Riggs led a defense that held off a superior force. He walked the line at least three times a day to show his young soldiers he was with them—that someone was with them. He did not sleep. Finally on the sixth day, his outfit was forced to split up. The next night his group was surrounded by Germans. A mortar fragment grazed Riggs in the back of the head and knocked him unconscious. When he awoke, he was a prisoner of war.
Riggs marched to a German camp and was then transported to another German camp in Poland. From there, on the 28th day of his captivity, he escaped.
Early in the morning, Riggs left his barracks for the latrine. When he realized there was no guard in the area, he slipped into a deserted mess hall and hid on the top of a walk‑in refrigerator. He listened during roll call, when the Germans realized he was not there. He listened as the Germans searched the mess hall with dogs. During the search, they looked in the refrigerator, but none looked on top.
“I held my breath and prayed,” he said, “ and it worked.” That night he hid in the shadows and watched as the guards patrolled the wire fences surrounding the camp. As the night wore on, the intervals between passes grew longer. Finally he decided to make his move. He braced the wire up with chair legs he had taken from the mess hall, and escaped into the woods.
Once out, Riggs headed for Warsaw. The third night he saw a group coming down the road. As he hid, a man tapped him on the shoulder and challenged him. It turned out that he and the others were members of the Polish underground.
“That's how much luck you can have in life,” Riggs said.
The underground placed him with the Russians. He fought with them for 10 days before returning to the American military in Naples, Italy. There he was told he was going home. Riggs, however, pleaded with his commanders to let him rejoin his battalion. Eventually they relented, and Riggs was returned to his outfit. It was then that he learned that 50 percent of his men had been either killed, wounded or captured.
Two years later, the Saturday Evening Post published an article detailing the 106th's gallant stand and the great importance of it slowing down the Germans. In the same article, Riggs received a special compliment: “... the 106th's soldiers, to a man, are unanimous in agreeing that Lt. Col. Thomas Riggs of Huntington, West Virginia was the outstanding hero of the division.” For his bravery, Riggs was decorated with the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He also received the Croix de Guerre from both Belgium and France.
“The one I value above all else,” he said, “is the Distinguished Unit Citation.”
It is not surprising that the award Riggs holds most dear is the one that honors his unit as a whole. When Riggs talks of his successes, he speaks of teamwork, enthusiasm, goals and leadership.
It is also not surprising that one of Riggs' favorite stories involves a complete team effort on the football field. It's a story he told the current edition of the Illini football team when he spoke to the squad at the request of the head coach John Mackovic the day before the Michigan game.
The year was 1939 and the 0‑3‑1 Fighting Illini were pitted against the undefeated Michigan Wolverines. The Illini had been given 30 new plays and had been revved up by the coaching staff. The preparations paid off as Illinois beat the superior Michigan club 16‑7.
“We were tied for 60 full minutes,” Riggs said as he retold the story the following week.
A leader throughout his life, Riggs has faced some tough foes. His latest have been against a particularly vicious enemy—cancer. Twice since 1985 he has undergone surgery. Both times the surgery was successful. Through it all, he has been supported by a very special team—his family.
When he awoke from his first operation, the removal of his right lung, Riggs saw his six children and wife Ginnie at the foot of his bead. His youngest son, Rory, tossed him a football and a T‑shirt that read “Property of Team Riggs.”
“He just wanted me to know that we were all together in this,” Riggs said.
Tom Riggs says he has been lucky. Maybe so. But it is the people who have played, fought, worked and lived with him who have been the luckiest.
Colonel C.C. Cavender, 423d C.O.
from the Sun City News, June 30, 1988 by Frank Hammond, Staff Writer
Old Soldiers never die,” goes the old barracks room ballad, “they just fade away.” And some fade away slowly.
For example, there is the Sun Citian Col. Charles C. Cavender, who together with his wife, Lois, only recently returned from the United States Military Academy at West Point where he attended the 65th anniversary reunion of his 1932 graduating class. Of the 294 cadets who graduated with the class, 14 were present for the reunion and 45 are still alive.
Born Oct. 2, 1897 in Grapevine, Texas, Cavender retired from the U.S. Army at Fort MacArthur, Calif. Sept. 30, 1953 after 36 years of active duty spanning three wars. When asked if his initial interest in attending West Point was because he came from a military family, Cavender shook his head and laughing wryly, said “My grandfather was a sergeant in the Confederate Army, but I don't think that influenced me. What did influence him was in his words, “a wave of patriotism” that swept over the campus of Texas A&M in November of 1917 when he was a second year student there and the United States had entered World War I. He had taken competitive exams for West Point and Annapolis and had been promised a principal appointment for June, 1918, by his district's congressman. But war fever was raging and Texas A&M students, according to Col Cavender “were leaving in droves for service in the armed forces.” He added, “I enlisted as a volunteer for the duration of the war.”
Eager to get overseas, young Cavender volunteered for the assignment to a field signal battalion of the 5th Division and was sent to France. While he was in the Battle of the Argonne, he was selected to compete for appointment to West Point. The War Department had been allotted 90 appointments, and one man from each regiment in the American Expeditionary Forces—approximately 200—were to compete for them. Private 1st Class Charles C. Cavender was one of the 18 who made a passing grade and received orders from General John J. Pershing's headquarters to proceed to the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, “by whom they will be sent to report to Commandant of the West Point Military Academy.” Cavender noted that General Pershing gave the graduation address for his class at West Point.
It was at West Point that Cadet Cavender made the acquaintance of a fellow classmate, now a fellow Sun Citian, Col. Warren G. Robinson, and started a friendship that has lasted 70 years.
Between his graduation from West Point in 1932 and the entrance of the United States into World War II, Cavender served in a variety of assignments in various units at a variety of posts in the United States, and the Territory of Hawaii and Panama.
“I was stationed in Panama at Fort Davis on the Atlantic side in 1930‑31 where the average rainfall is 160 inches,” the colonel recalled. “I was at Fort Shafter in Hawaii from 1939‑41 but was back in the states before Pearl Harbor.”
At the time of the Japanese attack on 7 December, 1941, Cavender was on duty in Washington, D.C. He became regimental commander of the 423rd Infantry Regiment of the 106th Division which was activated March 15, 1943 at Camp Jackson, S.C.
After Tennessee maneuvers in February, 1944, the division was shipped to England.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1944, it loaded on boats for the continent where it became part of the First Army. “No turkey for us,” the colonel quipped.
During the crucial Battle of the Bulge, Cavender's regiment was cut off and surrounded. The colonel and a number of his men were captured Dec. 19, 1944. He was liberated on April 5 by units of Gen. George S. Patton's Army. During this engagement which involved a saturation bombing attack by American planes, Col. Cavender was wounded. He recalls the experience with “On V‑E Day I was having surgery in a hospital in England.”
Among Cavender's awards and decorations, which include the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star medal, Purple Heart, both WWI and WWII Victory medals and campaign medals with battle stars, is the Legion of Merit.
The citation reads in part:
From China, Cavender entered occupation duty in Japan where he served, in his words, as “Deckhand” (Chief of Staff) to two different commanding generals of the 24th Division. They were Major General Anthony McAuliffe, famous for his response of “Nuts!” to the Germans demanding his surrender at Bastogne, and Major General William Dean, who was captured by the enemy early in the Korean War and remained a prisoner for three years.
Cavender returned to the United States in 1950 where he was post commander at Fort MacArthur until his retirement in 1953.
After residing in various communities in Orange County and briefly in Santa Barbara, Col. Cavender and his wife of 59 years, Carolyn, now deceased, moved to Sun City in 1972.
He married his present wife, Lois, whom he characterizes as my “right arm,” in 1985. He credits her with getting him back to West Point for the 65th reunion of his graduating class, saying, “I never would have made it without her.”
At the reunion although it had been raining the day and night before and part of the day of the parade—there were rumors that it had been canceled—the sun broke through and the skies cleared while the 4,000 young men and women cadets passed in review to honor the old soldiers on the reviewing line.
On his recent 90th birthday, Cavender received from West Point a handsomely bound booklet showing through pictures and brief narratives his career as a cadet. Inscribed on the black leather binding is this message
“Graduates of West Point Salute Charles C. Cavender, USMA 1923.”
(Editor's note—The men of the 423rd Regiment and the 106th Infantry Division Association, its Officers and Board of Directors also salute you. <R> We hope you enjoyed your 91st on 2 October, 1988. We are all looking forward to seeing you at Sacramento in 1990.
The Incredible Valor of Eric Wood
By R. Ernest Dupuy
Colonel U.S.A., Ret.
This article originally appeared in Dec. 20, 1947 issue of SATURDAY EVENING POST. Reprinted in the 1953 edition of the 106th Infantry Division Association's, “limited edition” book ‑The LION'S TALE. Reprinted here (1991) for our present membership.
Told for the first time, the story of a young lieutenant who almost single-handedly saved the right flank of an American army in the Battle of the Bulge. “The most amazing example of heroism in World War II.”
Daring indeed would be he who named one individual as the epitome of human heroism. Through the ages, men of all nations and all races have fought well and died well. Once in a great while, however, a man emerges who, under extraordinary circumstances, flings down the gauntlet to death, defies fate, says farewell to the conflict only when breath leaves his body. Since chance ‑ and chance alone ‑ decides whether or not there be witnesses to such an exploit, let us say of what follows only that it is the most amazing example of heroism as yet to come out of World War II.
The man was a first lieutenant, Field Artillery, AUS, one of thousands bearing identical labels. The cannons were squatty, humped up, wicked looking pieces towed by great six‑by‑six trucks — three of thousands of the same type carried on Ordnance records as “Howitzer, 105 mm., M1.” There the resemblance of this man and these cannons to others of their respective kind ceases. For the cannons saved the right flank of the American Army in the Ardennes. Had it not been for the man, they would not have been available to do it.
After the cannons had been lost with honor when howling waves of the Nazi 2nd SS Panzer Division washed over both them and the remnants of the field artillery battalion serving them the man continued to wage single‑handed warfare against the 6th SS Panzer Army. So the man, as always, is the important element. And his tale is worth telling.
It begins on December 16, 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge broke furiously on the Ardennes front. The howitzers— there were four of them to start with— of Battery A, 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division, emplaced in the rear of the little village of Schlausenbach on the north‑western slopes of the Schnee Eifel, where, with the rest of the battalion, supporting the 422nd Infantry Regiment of the same‑ division.
1st. Lt. Eric F. Wood, Jr., from Bedford, Pennsylvania,‑ twenty‑five‑year‑old Princeton fullback, five feet eleven, 195 pounds in weight and catlike on reflexes, was executive officer of the battery. His skipper, Capt. Aloysius J. Menke, up at a forward OP, was silent. He would continue to be silent, for the first kraut wave had overrun the OP, and Menke, a prisoner, will not enter this story again. Wood was then acting battery commander.
Up the forest, through a gaping hole torn on the northern sector of the 106th Division's recently inherited cordon‑defense positions, the Germans were swarming around the left flank and rear of the infantry, and into the artillery positions. One by one, in trace, three Nazi tanks pushed along a road over a rise a few hundred feet from the battery. Wood, racing to the left flank and standing on a knoll amidst enemy small‑arms fire, coolly shouted commands to his No. 4 piece, and as coolly destroyed the lead tank in two shots by direct fire. No. 4, incidentally, was the only piece in the entire battalion, which could reach the defiladed tanks. That was because Wood, the previous day, had rearranged it so that it could sweep the road. This was not in the plan ‑ it had not been considered necessary. But Wood had done it, just in case.
The lead tank destroyed, Wood hit the next, damaging it and sending it scuttling with its remaining companion for cover, hull down. He then swept the woods around him with short‑cut fuse, breaking up the enemy's infantry support. All this was but a temporary respite. By nightfall the battalion was ordered to fall back; the krauts were crowding in from all sides. But getting out was easier said than done. In the Battery A positions the big tow trucks churned the icy muck to a paste in which the howitzers sank almost hub‑deep. Hostile fire ‑ small arms and artillery ‑ was sweeping the area. Snow blew patchily into sweating faces in the night. The wind howled through trees each of which might be hiding an infiltrating enemy soldier. Hostile flares flickered over the snow‑drooped pines.
It was not nice. But Eric Wood tore around, and the men of Battery A tore and tugged with him. He was that kind of guy.‑ At last they got the howitzers on the road one by one, with two trucks grinding at each piece and with little clumps of men pushing like ants tussling with twigs. The howitzers could shoot‑ again, once they dropped trails, for Eric had packed eighty‑ three rounds of ammunition for each piece in the trucks.
In the rest of the battalion, Battery C never got out. The pieces, too deeply mired, had to be blown up. That left eight howitzers out of twelve. Battery B got out ahead of A, and the outfit went swaying and fumbling in the dark over a narrow corduroy trail, while the enemy, with white phosphorus shells, hunted for them.
They got to their new positions by dawn, a field on the right of the road that runs north from Bleialf into Schönberg on the Our. They were about a mile and a quarter from Schönberg itself. Battery B got in first. Wood got three of his howitzers in. The last one, its tow truck partly crippled, he kept as antitank defense.
The Germans were really bursting through in force that second morning. From the north they were coming down the Our Valley into Schönberg; from the south they were coming up this road from Bleialf. But all that Eric Wood knew was that the world seemed full of krauts. The enemy from the south washed nearer overrunning their neighbors. The acting battalion commander ‑ the original was cut off behind them with Battery C ‑ ordered the outfit out, to push through Schönberg and west toward St. Vith. Wood got two pieces rolling and sent the crippled third howitzer back with them.
“I'll meet you west of Schönberg,” he told the section chief, Sgt. Barney M. Alford, “if I get there.” For Wood's last howitzer was stuck. Once again the perversity was working against him. So he stayed to get it out with its crew. They worked at it while more krauts began overrun Battery B, and its howitzers were abandoned. That, of course, left four howitzers in the battalion. Wood at long last got his last piece on the road and swung over the tail gate of the truck, the last man out. The main body of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, consisting now of Wood's three other howitzers and some truckloads of men of both batteries, was way ahead of him.
This bedraggled outfit hit Schönberg to find the krauts coming in from the north. The three‑piece “battalion” beat them to the Our River bridge by seconds and got away. It got away to fight again, beginning on December nineteenth at a dreary crossroads far to the west on the hastily forming and still somewhat nebulous right flank of the United States 1st army. How these three howitzers for four days saved the right flank of the 82nd Airborne Division and of the Army at “Parker's Crossroads” is another story.
When Eric Wood and the twelve men with him in the truck now came rolling down the steep hill into Schönberg, the howitzer bounding behind, a kraut tank poked its nose out of the southern entrance of the village. Brake bands screamed as the truck pulled up in front of it. Wood and his men piled out to attack it. Pfc Campagna had a bazooka, the others had their carbines.
But the tank wasn't having any ‑ God knows why. It scuttled crab‑like back across the bridge and disappeared into the town with Wood and his gang in pursuit. They crossed the bridge and pointed west in Schönberg's one street, with snipers pecking at them. And they slowed down while Sergeant Scannapico and Pfc. Campagna, still hugging his bazooka ran ahead to see where that tank had holed up. They found it tucked in an alley. Scannapico fired his carbine at it. Campagna, climbing into the truck, let fly with his bazooka as they rolled past. Again the tank wasn't having any. The truck slowed to let Scannapico catch up, but a sniper got him cold, so the section rolled on.
They gathered speed as they left the village and met, over a rise in the road, another kraut tank. A medium, this, with its cannon and machine guns trained directly on them. Wood's reflex's worked instantaneously. He pitched his men and himself out into the ditch an instant before the tank's artillery blasted the truck to scrap iron. That was that, as far as getting the howitzer back safely was concerned. It left the battalion's score at three out of twelve.
But what about Wood and his men? The enemy was firing at them now from across the river on the right. Kraut infantry were firing from the trees beyond the meadow across the road to the right rear. More kraut infantry was pouring out of Schönberg behind them. And that tank squatted in front of them a stone's throw away. To the ordinary man, the situation seemed hopeless, and all but one of the group were ordinary men. They raised their hands in surrender. They were through. But Eric Wood wasn't through. Leaping the ditch, he ran, dodging northward toward the trees. The others could see kraut bullets sending little squirts of snow puffing up in the meadow at his heels, until he disappeared from sight in the shelter of the forest.
Late on the afternoon of the next day, December eighteenth, Peter Maraite, woodsman, left his home on the mountain village of Meyerode, Belgium, about four miles north of where that tank had smashed Eric Wood's truck. There were Germans all around. There had been fighting; doubtless there would be more. But Maraite had something else to think about. He was going to cut a Christmas tree ‑ there had always been a tree in the Maraite house for Christmas; there always would; as long as Peter could provide one. They are like that, in the Ardennes, war‑washed for generations.
So Peter plodded for a mile through the woods, moving southeast in the general direction of Schönberg. It was cold; clammy mist cloaked the woods. The snow powdered his head as he brushed low branches. Then two armed men loomed in front of him at a six‑way trail crossing ‑ Americans. Peter knew Americans when he saw them; they had held this sector for more than two months now. One was a big man with single silver bars on the shoulders of his short overcoat. One had a pistol. The other was smaller and wore no insignia of rank. He was armed with an infantryman's rifle, not an artilleryman's carbine. Peter Maraite is insistent on this point.
Now, like most of the Belgians of this border country, Peter Maraite spoke only German. The Americans could not speak German. But Peter managed to convey the idea that he was a friend; he invited them home. Cold, wet and tired, they accepted.
Because of the Germans, they came home cautiously, slipped into the warm stone house where astonished Anna Maria, Peter Maraite's wife, and wide‑eyed Eva, their daughter, rushed to pour hot coffee.
The Americans gulped it down while Eva slipped out to bring back Peter's trusted friend and neighbor, Jean Schroder, who spoke English. The watchdog was put outside to guard the door.
The Americans relaxed, steaming their soggy clothes before the fire. The big young officer, with a confident, smiling face, told how he had escaped from a detachment surrounded near Schönberg. He and his companion were going to St. Vith. He was concerned about the fate of his men, “all very good and loyal men,” as Peter Maraite remembers the conversation. The villagers warned that the country between Meyerode and St. Vith was full of Germans. The young officer wasn't a bit disturbed by their shaking heads.
“I'll either fight my way back to my outfit,” he told them, “or I'll collect American stragglers ‑ I've seen some in the woods around here ‑ and I'll start a small war of my own.”
What he wanted now was information about the Germans. He pulled out a map. So, while the woman and the girl bustled to get supper, the young American officer and the two droopy‑mustached woodsmen pored over the map. The Americans couldn't go that night, the villagers said; they would get lost. They must stay and start at dawn next day. The woodsmen explained landmarks; they showed the lieutenant where, so far as they knew, the Germans had bivouacs. They would have to go next day in any case, for doubtless the krauts would begin quartering men in the village. But for tonight— well, the Maraites had a big double bed upstairs and the two Americans were welcome to it"
So the two Americans ate and drank with their hosts. The officer cracked jokes, “said funny things which made us laugh,” as Peter and Anna Maria Maraite put it. He seemed to have no fears.
After they cleaned their weapons, the Americans repaired to the big soft feather bed while their clothes dried. They slept the sleep of tired but confident men, not waking even when a V bomb crashed on the outskirts of Meyerode with it's hideous thunder. Peter Maraite had to shake them awake in the morning.
Dawn was breaking when Peter put the pair on their way into the forest. They had hot breakfasts under their belts. They carried sandwiches with them, “well buttered, with plenty of meat therein,” and, says Anna Maria Maraite, “they were accompanied by our prayers.”
The fighting, it now appeared to the villagers as the days passed, was drifting far from Meyerode's huddle of fifty‑two homes and 280 inhabitants. St. Vith was captured by the Germans. True, up to the northwest on the Ades Berg, a hill commanding the highway to St. Vith, some stragglers were fighting. But on Christmas day, when the Maraites gathered about their tree, the krauts bagged all these men ‑ 120 of them, according to some of the German soldiers now quartered in the house.
The Germans had taken over the village for a headquarters area. To it, on December twenty‑second, came Field Marshal von Model, over‑all director of the great counter‑offensive which the Germans boasted would sweep the Anglo‑Americans out of Western Europe. There, too, had come Gen. Sepp Dietrich, commanding the 6th SS Panzer Army. In Meyerode also was shifty‑eyed Rex Degrelle, leader of the Belgian Nazis of the Walloonian SS Division ‑ a traitor whom the burghers of Meyerode feared and hated.
The Maraites at first wondered if their American visitors had been among those captured on the Ades Berg. Perhaps ‑ but odd things were happening in those woods southeast and east of the village, deep behind the German lines in the dense Omerscheid area of the Bullingen Forest. Daily, bursts of small arms fire came from the hills, and sometimes the “wham” of a mortar.
These sounds were in addition to the crashes of bombs and pom‑pomming of flak guns along the highways to the west. The weather had cleared and the Allied air forces were taking toll of German columns. Fighter bombers continually strafed the roads. The Germans had to reroute their daylight movements through the secondary roads in the eastern woods leading to the Our Valley and thence through the Losheim Gap. It was from this area that those unexplained small‑arms bursts were coming over the cold air to the peasants huddled in their homes.
Meyerode people began to notice that while large forces came and went at will through the hills, never did a small body of Germans or a supply column pass into the pine woods but that one of those mysterious bursts of fire followed. And the krauts issued orders strictly forbidding civilian movement in the forests.
Chance words dropped by the Germans, unguarded bursts of wrath from officers of the staff billeted in the village, plus the evidence of their own eyes and ears, gradually were pieced together by the Maraites and their neighbors. In a community like Meyerode the grapevine travels fast. Most of the burghers knew of the Americans who had stayed at the Maraite dwelling.
Sepp Dietrich himself, quartered in the home of Jean Pauels, the burgomaster ‑ a relative of Anna Maria Maraite ‑ began to thunder about American “criminal scoundrels and bandits.” The krauts were getting nervous, itchy. Daily, wounded men came in from the easterly woods, some hobbling, some carried. Kraut orderlies gossiped. “Damned bandits,” it seemed, flitted like ghosts through the trees out there hid in snowbanks. A German traveling those woods never knew when a bullet might come singing his way.
Larger and larger detachments were assigned to guard working parties, who from time to time took a six‑horse snowplow out to clear those wood‑roads. Searching patrols went daily into the forest, but no American prisoners ever were brought back.
So the weeks rolled on, with the daily crackle of small arms on the winter air, and the burghers of Meyerode built up their theory. They conjectured that out in the forest a small but organized group of Americans roamed. They had plenty of arms, they had at least one medium mortar, and they were taking a steady toll of the Germans.
And all the stories added up one way: that these American guerrillas were led by the young officer who had visited the Maraites, a man “very big and powerful of body and brave of spirit.” He kept his wolf pack going, it was said, by sheer will power. There could not have been many of them ‑ the Meyerode woodsmen later found no evidences of large bivouacs other than those known to be German.
How they existed through those bone‑chilling winter weeks no one knows. Probably horse meat was their diet ‑ there were several horse‑drawn kraut artillery units in the neighborhood, and horse‑drawn transport was daily passing through. Perhaps the Americans found rations in abandoned dumps. There was an ammunition dump at a trail crossing just a mile south of Meyerode where, after the Germans had gone, villagers found quantities of mortar ammunition still remaining.
Anyway, the daily firing in the woods continued until the middle of January. It was stilled just a few days before the counterattack ebbed and the Americans began slashing back into the neighborhood—perhaps about January twenty‑second.
When the Germans left, the people of Meyerode combed those woods. The burgomaster first sent two competent woodsmen ‑ his cousin August Pauels, and Servatius Maraite ‑ to search. They round German graves and some unburied German dead. And they found a few American dead, also unburied.
In a dense thicket southeast of Meyerode, not far from the six‑way trail crossing, Servatius Maraite found the body of an American officer, a big young man, “with single silver bars on his shoulders.” Near him lay the bodies of seven German soldiers. All had been dead about the same length of time ‑ as well as could be judged, perhaps ten days before the Germans were driven out. American Graves Registration people later would fix the date as probably January twenty‑second.
That no living Germans had later visited this spot, the villagers agree. This was evidenced by the fact that the American officer still had in his clothing his papers and 4000 Belgian francs, a sum no kraut looter would overlook. So the American had died as he had lived— a free man, taking with him when he went, the last of his pursuers.
That American officer, Graves Registration attests, was 1st Lt. Eric F. Wood, Jr. And the people of Meyerode say that he was the man befriended by Peter Maraite and his family ‑ the leader of the American guerrillas, whose description by wounded Germans, according to Burgomaster Jean Pauels, fits “like a police description” with that of Eric Wood.
Records and statements of eye‑witnesses prove that the only officer of the 106th Infantry Division unaccounted for from December sixteenth onward—that is, neither dead‑nor alive as free man or prisoner of war—was 1st Lt. Eric F. Wood, Jr.
That's the story, Powerful . . . . and brave of spirit.
The Story of Pvt. William Carow
“A Blue Braid On My Cap”
Dear members of the 106th Infantry:
This is the story of my son, and your comrade, Private William H. Carow of the 423rd Infantry, who gave his life in the bombing of Leipzig, April 12, 1945.
Bill left home in the dawn of a rainy May 4th (1943) ‑ his induction day.
He trained through a sizzling hot summer at Camp Barkeley, Texas, as a “Medic” and his letters home were epics of sweat, cactus spines, and nightmares called hikes.
From Basic Training he was admitted into the A.S.T.P., and was sent to Saint Bonaventure College in western New York State, to study engineering. This was a great change of fortune. There was a beautiful campus, fine bunch of fellows, good food, no “bawlings out”, freedom to come and go, and a wonderful girl besides!
Yet he wrote home:
“Most of us would rather be back on active duty in the field. I guess we forget how rough that life is, but we all kind of wonder what we are doing here, as if we weren't doing anything to win the war.”
In December, he wrote:
“Well, at last I have made up my mind. I am leaving here.”
He passed an examination for the A.A.F. that day, December 22, 1943. A year from that day, he was a prisoner of war in Germany.
Having entered the air service,, he was sent at first to Greensboro, North Carolina, and then to Indiana. Most of the winter of 1943 was spent in reconditioning airplanes at Freeman Field, while waiting for assignment to O.C.S. The work was not too heavy and gave him time for reading at the Service Clubs, and for many good “leaves”.
Then came a heavy blow. The appropriation for training additional fliers was withdrawn at Washington, and Bill suddenly found himself in the Second Army, as a Private infantryman, of the 106th Division. Things looked black for a while. Extra doses of K.P. made them even worse. As he wrote, “Sweating over a steaming hot sink gives you lots of time to think and get sore.”
Yet within a few weeks, he had become a loyal member of the 423rd Infantry. He wrote: “To tell you the truth, Mom, I am glad to be back in a good rough man's outfit. After all, it's us dough‑boys who are the backbone of the Army, and get most of the dirty work. I am proud to be able to take it, and wear blue braid on my cap.”
So Bill spent the spring and summer at Camp Atterbury, with more hikes, more infiltration courses, more bivouacs, more sweat, and in place of cactus spines, plenty of chiggers. “The Infantry is plenty tough” ‑ “strictly G.I.” Still he liked it.
There was just one thing that stood in Bill's way. He had failed a number of times to pass the gunner's test on the mortar. This made him feel like the black sheep of his platoon.
“Well, one day,” to use his own words, “our lieutenant, who is a swell guy just back from two years in the Islands, came up to me and said, `Look soldier, I know you can do it, and I am going to give you a whole day to practice. Then if you don't pass the test, I'll wrap the Goddam thing around your neck.' It's officers like that a man would like to be led into battle by. So I did practice eight whole hours until I learned to operate the thing flawlessly— I just never had enough practice on it before. Then I took the gunner's test and made a score of 94. Expert, the highest in the platoon.” Then came the expert's test . . . . . “I guess now I have licked everything that has ever confronted me on this side‑and know that I am well trained.”
October 1944 found the 423rd Infantry in England. There were some final weeks of training there, and some gay times too. The war seemed no closer than in the States. Then suddenly the day of action came; the channel was crossed, at the beginning of December, and a short letter of December 6th, told me, between the lines, that Bill was on his way to the front.
“Don't ever worry, if you don't hear from me for long periods of time,” he said, I am and always will be O.K."
My government telegram of January 11th read, “Missing in Germany since December 21st.”
Three months later I received a card from Stalag IVB. “ I am fine and in good health, thankful to be alive.”
A week later, a letter:
“I am well, except for frostbitten feet. Never worry about me. I am able to pull through anything, as long as I know that your prayers are behind me.”
In June, I had my last government wire. It said: “Killed in action.”
Investigation revealed that Bill had been caught in the bombing of Leipzig, together with seven other American boys. He had been sent out from Stalag IVB with a work unit, to repair the railroads in that city.
Details of his death came to me from a comrade who was with him at the Leipzig Camp, Private Kenneth Sohn. He wrote: Your son was a swell boy and well liked by all members of the camp. He was an interpreter for us and so stayed most of the time in his barracks. He seemed to be in pretty good health and spirits. I do know your boy did not suffer, as the bombing was over in just a few minutes, and he was killed outright. He never knew what happened."
I would like the 106th Infantry Division to know that I am proud that my son served in a Division with such an heroic battle record. I would be very grateful to hear from others who were with him, either in battle or in prison. My greetings to all Golden Lions.
Most sincerely and loyally,
Edna Hughes Carow
This month's cover, a Memorial Day reminder shows the grave of Pfc. David Zaragoza, Company B, 424th Infantry. This story is based on an authentic account of his death, as told to his mother by Sgt. Marshall Streib.
After fighting eight hours through the night of December 16, the morning of the 17th, Sunday, found about 60 men for Co. B, 424th Inf. dug in on the slope of a hill near Brock, Germany. Several men Pfc. Zaragoza among them, climbed to the summit to fire upon a German mortar crew from a stone house atop the hill. Being unable to reach the mortar from the protected walls of the house, five men of the detail (Zaragoza, Streib, a soldier named Parker, and two whose names are not known) left the shelter of the house to try to get nearer to their objective.
Zaragoza was shot and killed instantly as he was lining up his sights on the mortar crew from a kneeling position. Parker was shot and killed when he raised up to call a medic for Zaragoza.
David was twenty years old when he made the supreme sacrifice. His body and that of Parker were not found until American troops recaptured the territory about two months later. Pfc. Zaragoza's body was recently returned to the United States for re‑burial.
Mrs. Beatrice Zaragoza, San Francisco, California, David's mother, writes these consoling words which we pass on to other parents and wives who lost loved ones in the Ardennes.
Sgt. Streib told me a very reassuring thing also. He said that while they were in Rouen on December 8, 1944, all the boys of Roman Catholic faith had attended Mass and received Holy Communion. This may give consolation and joy to many mothers who probably wondered and worried like I did for so many months, thinking their boys did not have the Sacraments shortly before they died. Mrs. Zaragoza goes on to speak in glowing terms of the bravery, humility and modesty with which the catholic chaplains of the Division performed their duty.
Again quoting from her letter, “Father Edward T. Boyle, wounded twice, didn't spare himself even when the boys were in the fox holes, going down to give them the last rites of his Church.”
(The following articles are intended to honor all men of the 106th who were awarded individual awards though their individual accomplishment may not be shown here. Each chapter in this book. “The CUB Passes in Review,” is intended to give the reader a “glimpse” of the happenings as they were written by past authors and editors of The CUB of the Golden Lion. If some event or award is missing, it is simply because an article was not published, or was overlooked in the research. To reproduce each and every item that was printed in The CUB, since 1945, would involve several books like the one you are now reading, thanks.... CUB Review editor, 1991.)
French Government Honors 106th Personnel
In orders issued by USFET it was learned that the following former members of the Golden Lions have received awards of the French Government:
Maj. Gen. Alan W. Jones
Legion of Honor Gen.
Gen. Herbert T. Perrin
Legion of Honor
Lt. Col. Thomas J. Riggs
L'Ordre du Corps D'Armee
Lt. Col. Earl B. Williams
L'Ordre du Corps D'Armee
Capt. Lee Berwick
L'Ordre de la Division
Maj. Arthur C. Parker
L'Ordre de La Division
2d Lt. Robert L. Honaker
L'Ordre de la Brigade
1st Lt. Dale R. Carver
L'Ordre de la Brigade
General Eisenhower Presents DSC to Widow of Hero
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Army Chief of Staff, today presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Mrs. Margaret W. Wood, of Wayne, Pennsylvania, whose husband, 1st Lieutenant Eric F. Wood, Jr., was posthumously awarded the decoration for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy.
The presentation was made in General Eisenhower's office in the presence of the parents and other close relatives. Those attending included: Brigadier General and Mrs. Eric Fisher Wood, parents of Lieutenant Wood; Mr. and Mrs. Reginald J. Wadsworth, parents of the widow; Pamela and Eric F. Wood, III, children of Lieutenant and Mrs. Wood and Alec L. Wood, brother of Lieutenant Wood.
Major General Edward F. Witsell, The Adjutant General, read the citation which follows:
S/Sgt Richard A. Thomas Distinguished Service Award
Richard A. Thomas, 930 Bay St., San Francisco, Calif., is among the charmed circle of living American infantrymen to wear the Distinguished Service Cross for valor above and beyond the call of duty. We do not have a copy of the citation accompanying this award, so we bring you the story as told by 2d Lt. Lewis R. Walker, as an excerpt from the full story of Co H, 422d Inf, which will appear in the June 1948 issue of the CUB. It is nightfall, on 19 Dec. '44. Remnants of the 422d are gathered in a 1,000 yard oval, defending on all sides against the steel ring thrown around the regiment after the Schönberg attack. Continuing, in the words of Lt. Walker:
“Complete darkness fell. My sergeants came to the log shelter which served as CP for Company H. It was here that I learned of the heroism of S/Sgt Richard A. Thomas, company motor sergeant.
Walker goes on to tell of four separate acts of valor performed by Thomas. Details are lacking from this narrative, but those who served in the Ardennes can visualize what each of the following direct close‑packed sentences means.
“He had led a patrol through enemy territory, and brought back a trailer and truck of food to the encircled regiment. He saved the remnants of the 81st Engineer Company at Auw. He scouted out cross‑country routes to St. Vith, through enemy terrain. He attempted to recapture an American officer‑prisoner from a strong force of Germans. For these and later deeds, attested to by eye‑witness affidavits, he has been awarded the DSC.
“For participation in these actions, Silver Star Medals were awarded to Tec 5 Ernst C. Gerry, Co F, of Lovell, Maine; Sgt Herman W. Pace, Co H, 58 Jefferson St., Schuyler, W. Va.; Cpl Clyde McDaniel, Co H, of North Carolina; Sgt Roy J. Jensen, Co H, 300 S. Sprague St., Ellensburgh, Wisc.; and Cpl Lawrence J. Doerr, Box 308, Oroville, Wash. If I can learn the full name and ASN of Pfc Potter of H Co, he too will be a Silver Star wearer.
“Later that night I saw a first hand example of Sgt Thomas's leadership, While in the log shelter, we heard an enemy sound truck open up from a hill across the valley. It demanded our surrender, played popular American songs, and told us how nice it would be to be playing baseball in a prison camp. Thomas left the log shelter rounded up a few volunteers, took out a patrol, and one of his men erased the sound truck with a well thrown grenade.”
Edward S. Withee, 81st Engineers Awarded DSC
Article by Donald C. Wright, Captain U.S.A.R.
Thirty two (32) years ago, T/5 Edward S. Withee, Company A, 81st Combat Engineers, 106th Infantry Division was awarded the highest award ever to be bestowed upon an enlisted man in the 106th Infantry Division for his heroic actions in the village of Auw, Germany, during the battle of the Bulge, World War II, on December 16, 1944. Our Association is greatly indebted to Mr. Withee who graciously forwarded a copy of his award to our Adjutant. It reads as follows:
W.B. KEAN, Major General G.S.C.
Chief of Staff
WWII Medals Available
Many men who served in WWII received only ribbons, or nothing, for the medals which they earned. Medals which were earned and not received are still available and may be obtained by writing to U.S Army, Reserve Component Personnel & Administration Center, St Louis, MO 63132 and asking for the medals. On your letter and lower left corner of your envelope, show ATTN: PSE‑VS.
You should include in your letter photocopies of both sides of your Honorable Discharge. After verification your medals will be sent.
Soldiers who served between 7 December 1941 and 2 September 1945 and who were cited for Heroism or Meritorious Service or received a certificate of exemplary conduct in Combat; the Combat Infantryman Badge or the Combat Medical Badge are entitled to the Bronze Star Medal. This was authorized by post‑World War II order by George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff. If entitled to this medal, you should also request it in your letter and furnish documentation of eligibility.
The Purple Heart
Pondering in his headquarters in Newburgh, New York on August 7, 1782, General George Washington might well have thought back to the countless dark days through which his bedraggled, ill equipped and usually outnumbered Continental Army had to march over the past 7 years. Like thousands of military commanders to follow, he perhaps reflected on the agony, heroism and dedication which had carried his citizen‑soldiers to triumph in the War of Independence.
Now the war was over. Among the many bits of unfinished business was one that particularly bothered the commander in chief the total lack of any recognition for soldiers who had shown outstanding devotion to duty in the late war.
With a stroke of his quill. Washington created America's first military decoration for common soldiers; the Purple Heart or, as his general order called it, the Badge of Military Merit.
The decoration is believed to be the first given by any country without respect to the recipient's rank or position. Medals and decorations up to that time went to men of distinction ‑ royalty, military and political leaders and commemorated particular acts or events. Washington himself was presented such a gold medal for the capture of Boston in 1776.
But the Badge of Military Merit was different. By Washington's order, any soldier could qualify for it through “singularly meritorious action” and “unusual gallantry, extraordinary fidelity and essential service”.
The original was a far cry from today's Purple Heart, considered by many to be America's most beautiful medal. The first one was created by Pierre Charles L' Enfant who, 7 years later would be tapped by then President Washington to design something bigger: the city on the banks of the Potomac what would be the Nations's capital.
The Badge of Military Merit was a heart‑shaped piece of purple cloth edged with lace or silver and embroidered with the word “Merit” encircle by wreath. Despite Washington's good intentions only three were awarded: To Sergeants Eliha Churchill 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons: William Brown, 5th Connecticut, And Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut.
For some unaccountable reason the award fell into disuse for 150 years until revived as the Purple Heat medal on Washington's birthday, February 22, 1932 Originally reserved just for Army personnel, the decoration was authorized for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard the following December.
For 10 years the Purple Heart was awarded for meritorious service and sometimes for wounds received. In September 1942, the criteria were changed to the standards which apply today.
Tradition. Today's Purple Heart retains its rich tradition in Army heritage. Designed by Elizabeth Will and modeled by John R. Sinnock, chief engraver of the Philadelphia mint, the medal is striking in its quiet beauty. The obverse is a purple heart on a gilt bronze border and bears Washington's profile in cameo. The shield above the head is Washington's coat‑of‑arms surrounded by leaves. The reverse, below and the shield, is raised gilt heart bearing the words that hark back to the founder' general order: “For Military Merit.”
The Purple Heart now is awarded to U.S. Military and civilian personnel for wounds received as the result of enemy action.
Regulations provide that the recipient must be serving with American forces when wounded and the injury must be treated by a medical officer and be a matter of official record. Multiple injuries received at the instant or from the same “missile, force, explosion or agent” are considered for a single award. Recent amendments authorize the Purple Heart for prisoners of war injured as the result of their internment.
Although revived in 1932, the Purple Heart may still be awarded to World War I veterans. Individuals holding a Meritorious Service Citation certificate signed by General John J. Pershing qualify, as do those authorized to wear wound chevrons prior to World War II.
Today's wearer of the white‑edged purple ribbon bar carries on his or her uniform a bit of Army tradition going back to America's beginning as nation when George Washington noted that creation of the Purple Heart meant that “the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”
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