Monday, December 20, 2010

One Soldier, One War, One Hero

      Tonight I am taking a break from the Historical Fiction posts here and am focusing on a real US Soldier who took part in the Battle of the Bulge. Though many characters in the 3 part "Battle..." series actually existed, were in the units depicted, and did the things I am writing about, I wanted to pause on 19 December and recognize one single GI.
      That Soldier was Sergeant Glen Mitchell of B Troop, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Armored Division. My Grandfather. I chose 19 December to focus on him because this was the date 66 years ago that he was Wounded In Action and listed as Missing In Action. Could you imagine sitting at home, listening to the radio about this enormous German Attack, now three days old, when there is a knock at the door? Standing on your door step is a Western Union Messenger holding a message saying your son or your brother was missing "Somewhere in the European Theater of Operations"? I will try and piece SGT Mitchell's story together so you can get a glimpse of what he and his family endured in December, 1944.
     On June 9th, 1944 Sergeant Mitchell and the remainder of the 2nd Armored Division arrived on Omaha Beach. The debris of the June 6th battle still littered the sand. The infamous "Shingle" just above the high tide level was just beginning to be bulldozed to facilitate the offloading of supplies, men, and materiel into france. There was little of the famous chaos still ongoing on the beach. The 82nd Recon BN was directed to a holding area near Vierville, France. The critical objective of the 29th Infantry Division on 6 June. Now firmly in Allied hands this key terrain became the staging area for newly arrived elements coming ashore to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny.
    Sergeant Mitchell didn't have long to wait in the holding area. His Recon Battalion was given the task to conduct a rout reconnaissance from the outskirts of the highly contested Saint Lo (where the 29th Division was engaged in delaying German Forces from linking up in the Normandy Lowlands and executing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's plan to drive the allies back into the sea) into the Cotentin Peninsula. With the Priority Intelligence Requirement of rout classification and opposition forces in front of the desperately needed port of Cherbourg.
    In the weeks to follow SGT Mitchell was leading the 2nd Armored as the Recon vanguard into the Enemy garrison of Cherbourg. In a much recounted event when a Lieutenant Colonel Battalion Commander met face to face with the German Colonel to discuss the surrender of the defending garrison, the German asked to see the credentials of the US Officer addressing him. The American LTC pointed to a group of haggard GIs and stated "They are my credentials." SGT Glen Mitchell was one of those Soldiers.
    Being one of the largest Armored formations under the US 3rd Army, the "Spearhead" Division could not revel in their victory in the Cotentin Peninsula and capture of Cherbourg. Within the week the Division, 82nd Recon BN leading the way, was placed on the extreme western flank of what would be called "Operation Cobra." This was going to be the "End run" or flanking maneuver to reduce or force the repositioning of German forces in the Normandy Front. In the initial bombardment of enemy positions just prior to the US attack, Allied bombers dropped their deadly payload short of German Lines and inflicted heavy casualties amongst the 2nd Armored forces, as well as other units taking part in the attack. Corrections made through the ever improving air-ground coordination the bombers shifted their point of aim on their bombsights and began raining destruction on the vaunted "Panzer Lehr" Division. This would not be the last time SGT Mitchell would face the "Panzer Lehr" on the battlefield.
     During the attacks of "Operation Cobra" the German's read the tactical situation and realized that an advance on Avranches would divide the allied forces and prolong the advance deeper into France. SGT Mitchell was a part of the eastern turn facing the German Advance. History would record that the 2nd Armored blunted the attack on Avranches  and allowing the two US armies to link up and eventually push on Parris. This meeting engagement between the "Spearhead" Division and German advance would lead to a Medal of Honor being awarded to a Artillery Field Observer who kept attacking enemy Armor from gaining control of a major avenue of advance.
     With the German threat reduced (due to breakouts at Saint Lo and Caen) the door was open to Parris and the remainder of the French countryside. One of the honors given to SGT Mitchell and the 82nd Recon Battalion was to take part in the "Liberation Parade" through downtown Parris after the liberation in September 1944.
      The good times to be had in the "City of Lights" were short lived. As soon as the Free French Forces  took control of the City, the 82nd Recon was back into the fight. From the liberation of Parris in August to September 8th, Sergeant Mitchell had advanced to the Belgian Frontier conducting reconnaissance of routes and opposition for the juggernaut that was following close behind. By September 18 the 83rd Recon and SGT Mitchell had crossed the German border north of Schimmert to take up defensive positions near Geilenkirchen. 
       The fortunes of the 2nd Armored were to turn bad by October 3rd. The division received orders to join the battle to reduce the Siegfried Line from Marienburg. The action SGT Mitchell was entering would become known as the "Battle of the Hurtgen Forrest." This Battle would decimate the fighting strength of the 4th Infantry Division and 28th "Bloody Bucket" Division. SGT Mitchell fought his way through the German Defensive Position providing valuable Intelligence that led to the crossing of the Wurm River and the capture of Puffendorf on 16 November and Barmen on 28 November completing the initial goals of the Hurtgen Mission.
         17 December 1944, the 82nd Recon Battalion was manning positions along the Roer River, being given a chance to rest, receive replacements, and conduct much needed maintenance of the unit vehicles, when the mission changed drastically. The Second Armored received orders to maintain the positions along the Roer River and under no circumstances allow the enemy to cross. To ford the Roer River the Germans would be within a few short miles of it's Ardennes Objective of dividing allied forces by placing units on the Meuse River.
        B Troop was detailed to move from positions along the Roer to conduct a reconnaissance into the Enemy Spearhead to provide Intelligence, Disposition, and Intent of the attacking Germans. The objective of the Troop was to travel as far as St. Vith. Driving into the teeth of the German onslaught N, Troop, 82nd Recon made it to St. Vith. The situation had deteriorated drastically. Countless times the light armored vehicles had to seek cover and concealment to avoid the lead elements and hardcore combat formations of the 1st SS "Liebstandarte" Division and Kampfgruppe Peiper (of the Malmedy Conspiracy) before even seeing the spires of St. Vith. Once in St. Vith the Troop was reduced into Recon Sections tasked with pinpointing German Avenues of approach and numbers of elements streaming in to Belgium. This was a monumental task. Facing the 6-10 Recon GIs was the 6th SS Panzer Army and the 5th Wehrmach Panzer Army. This equaled over 16,000 combat tested, bloodied, violent enemy Soldiers. SGT Mitchell and his Soldiers were executing a no success probability mission. But part of a Reconnaissance Soldier's mission it to find the enemy, even if it means getting holes shot into you. Having the bad guys shoot at you tells the good guys where the action is.
        Direct accounts of what occurred outside Setz, Belgium become sketchy. From what I have been able to research SGT Mitchell was leading a Reconnaissance  of the route between St. Vith and Setz, in order to develop an Intelligence Operating Picture to be passed to the incoming 82nd Airborne Division that would be taking up positions near Werbormont, Belgium. Directly he was reporting to the 7th Armored Division and occasionally to the ill fated 106th Division. Without a unified command and single point to send reports SGT Mitchell continued his mission, sending back information regarding he 18th Volks Grenadier Division, attacking from both the northeast and south east towards St. Vith.
       During the period of time he was conducting Reconnaissance on the converging enemy axis of advance SGT Mitchell's vehicle was destroyed and he was blown into a ditch. This was 19 December 1944. Wounded but still in control of his facilities, Glen evaded the roving patrols of German Infantry. The enemy was clearing the terrain along their routes to round up stragglers from the 422nd Infantry Regiment that had fragmented and was decimated on 16-17 1944. SGT Mitchell was able to make it to a Farm near where his vehicle had been hit. Being blessed to have lived through 7 months of almost constant contact, Glen found the family in the farm to be concerned with his condition and willing to hide him from the patrols that passed more and more frequently as the situation in front of St. Vith became more dire. The situation would become so dire that the 106th Division surrendered to the Germans on 19 December, 1944. This was the largest surrender of American Troops in history. Over 7000 Soldiers were taken into captivity and moved east to Stalags situated close to the front lines. Somehow Glen Mitchell survived. Most of the credit goes to the family that risked execution if found to be harboring an American Soldier.
        SGT Mitchell's stay with the family was not lengthy. The family was tied into the underground and he was moved several times to maintain his safety. It was not until late December/early January that SGT Glen Mitchell would be returned to US Army units. His well taken care of wounds were given a once over by Army Doctors and he was returned to duty with B Troop, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion. From his return to May 8th 1944, Glen recrossed into Germany as the ground element tasked with linking up with the 17th Airborne's drop in Operation Rehinland. He spent the remaining days of the war continuing to provide maneuver time and space to whatever command he found himself under.
     SGT Glen Mitchell was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Man's Badge, European Campaign Medal with 3 Stars, and countless other decorations to include the French Forragere, Belgian Forragere, Distinguished Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Citation, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
      This is just one story, of one Soldier, in one war, that in my eyes and heart became a Hero. Everyday the generation that survived these horrific scenes becomes smaller. If you get the opportunity, stop and talk to one of those veterans. It doesn't have to be just a World War II Veteran, it can be a Korean War Veteran, a Vietnam Veteran, a Grenada Veteran, Panama, Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan Vets. A kind word, or giving them a chance to convey the sacrifice they have laid at the alter to the country so freely is the least we can do.
     To SGT Glen Mitchell, thank you for what you sacrificed for our country and our freedom. I am sure the reward you got in heaven is a little bit better because you experienced hell on earth. Thank you for coming home and making a family. Especially your son David Glen Mitchell. I think you would be proud of the family that has grown. You are sorely missed.

This Writing is for you....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks David, It touches my heart that you would take the time to not only compose this piece, but to do the research necessary to present this. Thank you for paying homage to a quiet, loving man who simply did the job the Army asked him to do.