DIARY ENTRY # 21
By Don R. Marsh
12 April 1945 Unna, Germany
No one recalls exactly when the 21-year-old Private joined the Company. The truth of the matter is that "A" Company roster no longer contained the names of many of the men on the original roster after it first went into combat. Casualties in all ranks had taken its toll and the turn over in personnel left too few of the once familiar faces and names. By the end of the war, Captain Robert D. Mizner had become the sixth Company Commander, replacing the five others who came before him. No one, regardless of rank, was spared from the danger in an Infantry line company. Company A, 7th Infantry Battalion, Combat Command "A", 8th Armored Division was among those with the highest figures, so it is no wonder few would remember the Private's face or name in the unit. His Platoon Sergeant John R. Hartwell, 3rd Platoon, spent most of his time assigning new men to squads after the Company suffered 70% losses in its first week in combat; commencing January 21, 1945 at Nennig, Germany, with Patton's Third Army. Frost bitten feet accounted for a heavy percentage of men lost in the minus 10 degree winter. Following that initial blood bath, the replacements came and went with regularity, making it difficult to put a face with a name of a rifleman on the Morning Report. How long one lasted "on the line" was one of the mysteries of war and circumstances - spelled luck. The majority of current names remaining on the Morning Report, in all likelihood, had been replacements themselves.
You won't last very long in a line outfit if you are either an extrovert or an introvert; to survive, you soon learn to go with the flow. As they say, misery loves company, so look for another "new man" to buddy-up with - he's the guy in a telltale new uniform, like yours. Don't take it personal that the "old men" don't associate with the "new men" at first; as time goes by, through sheer numbers and attrition, you'll be one of them, if you're among the lucky ones. It is not easy for a newcomer to make friends. You speak when spoken to, listen, watch and learn, but don't voice your opinion unless asked.
His arrival in the Company was just in time for the Rhine Offensive in the spring of 1945, close to the war's end. Having been funneled through the various induction facilities, first completing Basic Training and then the advanced Infantry course, he rapidly moved through the transfer procedures to various overseas pipeline replacement depots. At the end of the line, he was finally assigned to "A" Company in Combat Command "A."
After experiencing months of loneliness of being just another number in the replacement pool of total strangers, he welcomed the knowledge that this would be his last transfer. To paraphrase an Army expression - he had found a home! He quietly blended right in with the others in his half- track and responded to orders by rote. The time had come for him to join the Brotherhood of War here at his final destination.
In keeping with his Christian teachings, he agonized over his pending metamorphosis of experiencing the dread of killing another human being; however, he would not have long to wait to face that decision of conscience. Destiny had brought him to this climatic point in his young adulthood.
Many of the specific details are still lacking about those difficult days of April 1945 with the war in its final stages of fighting. The fronts were fluid and changing daily with the rapid advances and constant danger from bypassed pockets of desperate German troops unwilling to surrender, preferring to fight in a losing cause, regardless of the cost. Roads and villages in the rear at any given hour once thought to be secure turned into deadly ambushes for unsuspecting Americans, as it happened to Norm Steele and other Signal Wire men in jeeps. Strong German forces were determined to fight their way out of the ring of steel.
This was to be the final offensive in an all out attempt to crush the last resistance as we made our way towards the biggest prize of all the Allies - Berlin. In the wake of a giant pincer movement of the two American Armies, the First and the Ninth, numerous heavily fortified and well defended pockets of resistance were deliberately bypassed for expediency and were designated to be eliminated in mop-up operations. The brilliant encirclement closing the trap at Lippstadt by the US 2nd Armored "Hell On Wheels"(my unit) and 3rd Armored "Spearhead" Divisions sealed the fate of 350,000 German troops captured there on April 1st. This was initially called the Paderborn Pocket; later renamed the Rose Pocket in honor of the slain, Major General Maurice Rose, Commanding General of the 3rd Armored Division, Killed In Action, on 30 March 1945 at Hamborn, Germany. Rose was in a column with the leading Task Force (Welborn) in the attempt to capture Paderborn; closing the door and shortening the war by months, without the additional loss of life.
Company "A" was assigned as a part of this huge mop-up operation. The initial objective being the city of Unna, located just west of the Teutoburger Wald (forest) in the triangle formed by the cities of Lippstadt, Hamm and Dortmund. Unna was primarily defended by the remnants of the once proud German 116th (Greyhounds) Panzer Division. Included in their strength were 4 Jagdtigers from the Schwere Panzerjagerabteilung 512th (Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion) and 17 Mark IV Panzers from the 16th Panzer Regiment. Most were attached to the 156th Panzer grenadier Regiment and the remainder to the 60th Regiment, reinforced on the night of April 10th by alarm units. Supported by the SS Signal Ersatz Battalion; the 1st & 2nd Battalion 401st Volks Artillery Corps; and numerous Landschutzen and flak units; reinforced by Hitler Jugend from the Mulhausen garrison. The German 190 Infantry Division was also in the area, with the total amounting to a formidable force of strength.
The 8th Armored Division CO, Major General John M. Devine, ordered BG Charles F. Colson's CCA to attack Unna early on the morning of the 11th. The attack on Unna began at 0630 hours, April 11th against well dug in defenders, without the element of surprise as the attack was expected. Just prior to jumping off, the new replacements had been thoroughly briefed by the platoon leaders and non-coms what to expect in assignments, as they assembled in the early morning hours of darkness. The kid from Wisconsin, now a "seasoned veteran" of less than one month, nervously checked his M1 Garand rifle, secured his grenades, having drawn sufficient ammo clips for his bandoleer. He moved out with the rest of his squad. His fateful date with Destiny had now placed him at the wrong place and wrong time - the clock was ticking down.
April became a meat-grinder for all American armored divisions in the First, Third and Ninth Armies, under Generals Hodges, Patton and Simpson as they urged their Corp Commanders to hammer the Germans. Slowly the defenses crumbled under the combined onslaught with the added weight of British and Canadian forces driving in the north. The race for Berlin, a mere 56 miles away, was on in full force.
Following a 15 minute preparation on Unna by five Artillery Battalions, CCA, under BG Charles F. Colson, jumped off at 0630 hours with Task Force Goodrich, led by Lt. Col. G.B. Goodrich, CO, 18th Tank Battalion, moving up from the south and Task Force Poinier, led by Lt. Col. Arthur Poinier, CO, 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, moving in from the southeast. The main approach to Unna from the east (the Unna-Soest Road) traversed across almost level ground. To the south the terrain sloped upward to form a ridge, the crest of which was approximately two kilometers from the roadway. This ridge dominated the road and had to be taken before any armored unit could move safely towards Unna. Moving on Unna from the south, Company A, of Task Force Goodrich was pinned down by fire coming from some barracks and a wooded area. Task Force Goodrich continued the attack with excellent tank-infantry teamwork, entering the town from the south and moving through, to clean out resistance.
The bitter fighting raged from house to house as the German defenders fought with fury. The Army Air Corps P47s and P51s attacked the German armor destroying 11 tanks from the air. In the action, in addition to the tanks lost, the Germans also lost five dual-purpose 40 mm guns, a battery of 88s and 160 POWs captured in town. The ground fighting was intense as the attackers inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders who would make "A" Company pay a stiff price of five Company men Killed In Action. Others were wounded in capturing the objective, the city of Unna when it fell at 1400 hours. Fighting continued to rage with the German withdrawal from the inner city to nearby wooded areas. The war at this point was far from over. Many more would die on both sides.
One of the five Company men lost was PFC Gilbert Forest Lindgren, ASN 36 845571, my nephew, my sister's only child, born 21 November 1923, inducted 23 August 1944 at Racine, Wisconsin. Ironically, "A" Company went into Division Reserve the following day outside of Wolfenbuttel and never returned to combat again.
On May 5, 1945,"A" Company Commander. Robert D. Mizner, sat down to write his obligatory letters of condolence to the parents of his men recently lost in the last battle, including the letter to Gilbert's mother in which he wrote:
The officers and men of the Company join me in their heartfelt condolence to you upon the death of your son who was killed in action in Germany on 12 April 1945. He was buried with full military honors in a United States Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland, with appropriate religious services held by a Chaplain. The division had been fighting in a southwesterly direction back into the 'Ruhr Pocket' created by the junction of the Second and Third Armored Divisions. Gilbert was a member of a rifle squad in the attack on the city of Unna, Germany. He was a rifleman in action - when he was hit and killed by enemy fire from a machine gun nest. Your son was a 'new-comer' to our battalion, but was with us long enough to become liked by all officers and men, and to be recognized for his outstanding courage and devotion to duty. Every man misses your son and shares your grief."
May 7th brought V-E Day and the war in Europe was officially ended. The men now were resigned to wait for transportation to return them home to the United States. The return of the dead would have to wait until 1947 for repatriation and reburial in the United States.
Now, fifty-seven years after the fact, Gilbert's name appears on a government grave stone marker, just one more faceless ghost of the past. In reflection, he never felt the joy of returning home to his loved ones, finding his girl who promised to wait for him, attending the University of Wisconsin with the GI Bill, receiving a degree in journalism and later one day becoming a writer, military historian, author and becoming a husband, father and grandfather - all the things we mortals take for granted in life, this is what he sacrificed.
"Our revels now ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. Yea, all which it inherits … shall dissolve. And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep." From William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" Act IV
Publication or reproduction in part or whole is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family Trust. Written Memorial Day May 27, 2002