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Lt. William Kiefer, Illinois, Awarded Silver Star in Tank Action Bravery

By Jack Bell
with the 11th Armored Division
Bastogne, Belgium (Via Press Wireless)

How do we shuffle green divisions into action, and what is the result? Well, the 11th Armored Division crossed the English channel, raced across France to Neufchateau, Belgium, at midnight December 29th, and attacked at dawn just west of Bastogne at a time when the Jerries still thought they owned the place and were very tough, indeed.

That was baptism the hard way, for the men never had heard guns shooting for keeps, had no seasoned outfits on the flanks to steady them, and ran into furious opposition day after day. Obviously, Jerry expected to route the greenhorns, and it has been done often. But now, with the shooting far east of here, the Eleventh pauses after a campaign that ended with nary a German unit south or west of Houffalize.

Now, after a few short weeks under fire, the Eleventh lads are veterans. "We were too dumb to be scared," says Major Robert Knight, 4323 S.W. 10th Street, Miami, Fla., "and got away with some moves the Jerries figured no sane soldier would make. We were excited and laughed when the first shells fell around us. Then men were killed, and we learned war is serious–learned fast. We never made mistakes twice, the men didn’t panic, and after a few days they were slugging it out with every Jerry they could find."

The Eleventh is an outstanding example of American initiative, of men who performed remarkable tasks under withering artillery fire, and of comrades who somehow realized what was expected of them, and followed these set brilliant examples:

Major Knight ( he didn’t mention it) was awarded the Silver Star for moving directly into withering artillery fire on two occasions to carry out assignments that led to successful operations.

Captain Elmore Fabrick, Gainesville, Fla., moved among his men for hours during an attack, directing fire and moving them forward through a town. A less capable leader would have hopped into a hole, and many have done with no discredit. His men knew they were with a real soldier. Experience helps, but isn’t everything.

Nor do officers set all the examples. One night when his company was under artillery fire for hours, Private Jim Mathews, Cambridge, Ohio, a medic, worked throughout the night under fire dressing and evacuating the wounded. There’s a Silver Star for him, another for Sergeant Richard Powell, Cleveland, Ohio, who did similar service for his comrades.

Two tanks were shot from under Captain John Meggesin, Aurora, Ill., one afternoon while he was leading an attack on a powerful German armored force. He fought until dusk in a third tank, and topped the day by going out onto an exposed ridge under fire to rescue two wounded.

Lt. William Kiefer, Aurora, Ill., University of Illinois geology student, had his forward observation tank knocked out by German fire. He ordered the crew to bail out, then sat there under fire to direct artillery on the enemy.

All of those men got Silver Stars, and earned them.

Karl Little, Mount Vernon, Ill., is little in stature, but a giant in the eyes of his comrades, since they saw him run directly into an artillery barrage to aid four comrades wounded in a vehicle. He saved one life by applying a tourniquet. So they made him a corporal. Howard Fine, Chicago, Ill., who drove his jeep into the barrage to haul out the wounded is still a jeep driver. They’re just American soldiers who’ve got what it takes.

* * * * * * *

Everybody laughs about the experience of three doughs in a barrage. Sergeant Pat Lynch, Omaha, Neb., and Private Cornelius Schregardus, Holland, Mich., just finished a foxhole near their machine gun emplacement, when Jerry threw a flock of screaming mimis at them. Lynch pulled his rank, taking the bottom of the hole with Schregardus on top. Private Tom Whitman, Chicago, Ill., dived in last, but had to leave his legs sticking up. A shell whizzed by so close it nicked his knee – a dud. That’s funny.

Long months ago in Burma, I saw an American unit do a miserable job of relieving a brilliant outfit. Criticism was widespread. "They didn’t get the training, and hadn’t the leaders."

And a few days ago, I watched two First Division regiments clean out a pocket, suffering few casualties, after another had suffered heavy casualties. "We succeeded because they failed,"an officer explained. "They were ordered to attack to the southeast over uphill and downhill terrain, and the Jerries slaughtered them going uphill. Then the high command permitted us to attack as the previous unit had requested, along the ridges moving southwest. It was a cinch, and their regiment was just as good as ours."

We see good, indifferent, and a few rather sorry American army outfits over here– all composed of the same type of Americans.

Leadership makes tough, prideful outfits, and Brigadier General Charles Kilburn’s Eleventh Armored Division in short order has earned its place of honor beside those which fought from D-Day down to right now, and are wary and battle wrecked. We’ve got to have many more new outfits similar to the Eleventh.

Note: This article was published in U.S. Newspapers, January, 1945

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