12 April 1945
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 turnover 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
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
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 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 on 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
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 the town 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 P47's and P51's
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 40mm 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 town 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
"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"
A condensed and edited version of this article
appeared previously in 1987 issues of the 2nd Armored Division
Bulletin and the 3rd Armored Division Association Newsletter.
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