County Gold Star Boys in the European Theater of WWII
(Used by permission)
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for
being here today, and especially thanks to the American Legion and the VFW for
their sponsorship of these Memorial Day Services. During World War II every family who had a member
serving in the military was sent a service flag along with a blue star to hang
in a window. If a son was killed in
action, the family was sent a gold star which they placed over the top of the
blue star to let anyone who passed know that they had lost a son. Two years ago, here in front of this Memorial,
we brought to life the memories of those 17 Dundy County boys who made the
ultimate sacrifice in the Pacific Theatre.
Today, let’s bring back to life the European Theatre and the memories of
the eleven Dundy County boys whose families received the gold star from that
Although World War II
began for America on December 7, 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it was
not until nearly a year later when American soldiers began action in Europe. The reason for the delay was that in
December, 1941, America had only the 17th largest army in the world,
and it took a long time to mobilize and train the millions of troops necessary
for the war effort. Combat in the
European Theatre began, not in Europe, but in North Africa, because Hitler had
over 300 divisions in Europe. At that
time an invasion of the European mainland in 1942 would have been doomed to
failure. Several Dundy County boys
served in North Africa as the invasion there began in November of 1942. Life for the front-line soldier in North
Africa was tough. These soldiers were
filthy dirty, they ate if and when, slept on hard ground without cover. They lived in a constant haze of dust,
oppressed by the desert heat during the day, the freezing cold nights, and the
constant pestering of desert flies.
The North African campaign lasted six
months, and resulted in the capture of 250,000 enemy troops. Americans suffered 19,000 casualties in this
campaign, including nearly 3,000 killed in action, but none of these were Dundy
From North Africa, the allies next
invaded Sicily in June 1943, the first time American troops confronted the
enemy on European soil. Sicily is the
rugged island off the toe of Italy, and it is about five times the size of
Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent
beloved by GIs, described the campaigning in North Africa and Sicily in this
way: “Outside of the occasional peaks of bitter fighting and heavy casualties
that highlighted military operations, the outstanding trait of these campaigns
is the terrible weariness that gradually comes over everybody. Soldiers become exhausted in mind and soul as
well as physically. It’s the perpetual
choking dust, the muscle-racking hard ground, the snatched food sitting ill on
the stomach, the heat and the flies and dirty feet and the constant roar of
engines and the perpetual moving and the never settling down and the go, go,
go, night and day, and on through the night again. Eventually it all works itself into one dull,
dead pattern—yesterday is tomorrow and Troina is Randazzo and when will we ever
stop and, God, I’m so tired.”
Sicily was a tough slog, and 2,300
Americans would be killed. Most of the
veteran German troops were able to escape from Sicily to Italy, where they
fought ferociously all during the Italian campaign, where the Allies would be
fighting in Northern Italy, when the war finally ended.
The allies landed on the shores of mainland
Italy on September 3, 1943, nine months before the D-Day invasion of France
began. Ernie Pyle had this to say about the
mountainous Italian peninsula: “The war in Italy was tough. The land and the weather were both against
us. It rained and it rained. Vehicles bogged down in the mud and temporary
bridges washed out. The hills rose to
high ridges of almost solid rock. We
couldn’t go around them through the flat valleys, because the Germans were up
there looking down on us, and they would have let us have it. So we had to go up and over. A mere platoon of Germans, well dug in on a
high, rock-spined hill, could hold out for a long time.”
James Carlyle Carlon graduated from
Benkelman High School in 1931. Lyle, as
he was called by his friends, was sent overseas a month before the Allies
invaded Sicily. Lyle became a tank
commander in charge of his squadron in Italy.
On October 23, 1943, Lyle Carlon was killed in action.
Edgar H. Nordhausen served in the
armored infantry. In January of 1944 his
unit was sent to Italy, just in time for one of the most terrible battles of
the Italian Campaign—Cassino. It was
here at Cassino, on February 11, that Edgar Nordhausen would make the ultimate
sacrifice. The Battle of Cassino would
last another three months before the Allies could claim victory.
On June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion
of France began. At the conclusion of
the ceremonies here, please join us at the cemetery to revive the memories of our
remaining nine Gold Star servicemen of the European Theatre.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed
and parachuted ten divisions on the beaches and hedgerows of Normandy. Opposing them were 59 German divisions
scattered throughout France and the Low Countries. Because the Germans believed the real
invasion would come farther north, the Allies were able to overcome the 59-10
odds against them. And day after day,
fresh Allied divisions were landed at Normandy.
It was a narrow thing, but the Allies were able to secure the Normandy
beachhead, but not without cost.
John Marlin McKie was born in
Haigler, and married to Minnie Mae Hamil, also of Haigler. We are grateful to him for helping to secure
the Normandy beachhead. John McKie was
killed in action on June 14, 1944, and was posthumously awarded the bronze star
for bravery in action.
John F. Hollinger grew up in
Benkelman. He was a member of a tank
crew in the Third Armored Division, known as the Third Herd. This division spearheaded the US First Army
through Normandy, and in August, 1944, captured 8,000 German prisoners after
cutting them off at the Falaise Gap, and ending the Normandy Campaign. On September 12, the Third Herd breached the
Siegfried Line on the German border, taking part in the Battle of Hertgen
Forest. It was about September 15 that
John Hollinger made the supreme sacrifice, the first Dundy County boy to die on
German soil. It was in the same area
where his father had served in World War I.
September proved to be a severe month
for Dundy County boys. Elbert Leroy
Mathis, son of Albert Mathis of Benkelman, was killed in action in Germany on
September 28, 1944.
Even though the Allies had crossed
into Germany in September, they penetrated only 22 miles inside the border
during the next three months. One of the
obstacles to deeper penetration was the Roer River, where, in November,
rainfall was triple the monthly average.
Rain grayed the soldiers, melding them with the mud until they seemed no
more than clay with eyes. It was here at
the Roer River that Earl Medlock, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Medlock of Haigler,
was killed on December 3, 1944. Earl
Medlock’s brother Leonard was to be killed on Okinawa in May of 1945.
On December 16, 1944, Hitler launched
a surprise attack with more than 400,000 soldiers against 228,000 thousand
Americans in the Ardennes Forest in what is now known as the Battle of the
Bulge. Americans rushed reinforcements
to the Battle as best they could, but conditions were terrible. It was the coldest winter in Europe in the 20th
century, and most GIs had no overcoats.
It was the second bloodiest battle in American history, with 89,000
casualties and 19,000 killed in action, and one of those killed was Albert
Haas, son of Mrs. August Gunther. Albert
had spent most of his younger life in Dundy County. He was killed on December 17.
The Battle of the Bulge raged for 39 awful
days. Henry Eugene Krause grew up in
Haigler, and graduated from Haigler High School in 1941. He trained as a machine gunner, and left for
the European Theatre in November, 1944.
He was killed in action on January 3, 1945.
As in all wars, many deaths in World
War II occur away from the battle field.
William Kitchin Douthit grew up north of Max, and graduated from
Benkelman High School. He received his
training in Texas, where he qualified as an expert rifleman. In February 1945, his family received word
that he died at sea in the European Theatre as a result of a heart attack.
Alonzo Harry Greene, son of William
Greene and Marie Denny, lived almost all his years in Dundy County. He was married to Ida May McCoy of Max. Alonzo volunteered for the airborne
paratroops. He was one of the
reinforcements rushed to the defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the
Bulge. Later, at the battle at
Cleaveauz, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star for
gallantry in action. On March 24 he was
reported missing in action, and his body was later found near Wesel,
Germany. After the war was over, all
families of those killed in action were given the choice of having their sons’
remains returned home, or to be buried in an overseas military cemetery. Almost half the families chose to have their
loved ones buried overseas. Alonzo
Greene today rests in the American Military Cemetery in Holland.
James H. Wooters graduated from Parks
High School in 1933. He enlisted in 1943
and was assigned to the infantry. He
entered the European Theatre in December 1944, and was killed in action on
April 7, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered. When soldiers were killed in action, they
were often temporarily buried on the battlefield. A wooden cross was erected on the grave, and
the soldiers’ dog tags were fixed to the cross.
James Wooters was the last of the Dundy County boys to have his dog tags
hammered to a wooden cross. He is buried
in Butzbach, Germany.
Today, if you thank a veteran for his
service and suggest he is a hero, he will almost always say, “I was no
hero. I was just doing my job. The real heroes are those who never came
back.” Today, we pay our respects and
our eternal gratitude to those soldiers, sailors, and Marines whose names you
see here. Thank you, Gold Star Veterans,
thank you so much.