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Tony Gentry

February 26, 1945 – My Father’s 23rd Birthday

Updated: May 17

From my new book WWII Mortarman:

After three months of constant combat, living outdoors in one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record Lyn celebrated his 23rd birthday in a muddy foxhole in a cold rain. Over the previous two weeks in Alsace, France, his mortar company had assisted the 63rd Infantry Division in clearing the towns of Kleinbittersdorf, Auersmacher, Bubingen, and the northern edge of the Hinterwald Woods.[1] Some days it seemed that the Germans were retreating, their forces growing weaker; other days they fought back as fiercely as ever. Their artillery shells exploded all about, mined roads blew up tanks, machine guns mowed down American G.I.’s as they ventured forward across open fields, and snipers lurked in steeples of conquered towns, just as they had all winter long. The task now was to clear the Nazi’s out of France, pushing them back across the Rhine River into Germany. The task for the Germans, who could no longer resist that relentless shove all along their border, was to kill as many Allied soldiers as they could along the way.

Allow me to pause for a minute here. My father, as noted, turned 23 on the battlefield. Keep that in mind as you read, perhaps reflecting on your own experience at that age. And remember, he married in the last weeks of his teens, turned 21 in the Texas border country learning how to fire an anti-aircraft cannon, celebrated his 22nd birthday with U-rations cooked over a tin can stove in North Africa, and by his 23rd birthday in an icy trench in France had not seen home in nearly three years.

As testimony to the heavy level of fighting in February, the 99th Chemical Mortar Battalion online narrative lists 9,224 rounds of HE and 13,423 rounds of WP fired, during a month in which the battalion won a Battlefield Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre for its key role in breaking the Colmar Pocket, then proceeded without delay to fight entrenched German forces along the Maginot Line. In that short, brutal month, the mortar battalion lost 19 wounded and one killed, while the Seventh Army to which they were attached suffered 7,168 battle and 16,224 nonbattle casualties.[2] The French counted 4,316 battle and 36,540 nonbattle casual­ties in Alsace, and the German Nineteenth Army listed its losses at 22,000 men killed, wounded, or captured.

[1] The other two mortar companies, assigned to the 70th Infantry Division, had driven north through Oeting, half of Forbach, Behren les Forbach, Kerbach, Etzling, Spicheren, Lixing, Grossblitterstroff, Zingzing, Alsting, and held the high ground in the forest of St. Arnual.

[2] From Kennett, L., The American Soldier in WWII: Postwar calculations showed that the most hazardous battlefield roles were combat engineers and medical men, followed by general infantry (264 wounded per thousand per year), then armor, with field artillery trailing considerably (50 wounded per thousand per year).

If you would like to purchase WWII Mortarman, here’s the Amazon link:

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