One  Last Mission

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   One Last Mission

During the coldest winter on record (in the 1900's) near Tettingen (Germany), Co. L, 302reg., 94th Div., on the 19th and 20th of January, 1945 was in a battle against the 3rd Panzer division of the German army.  A handful of the soldiers from L Company found themselves in a World War I bunker during the German counter attack in the late hours of January 19th, and the battle lasted into January 20th, 1945.  L Company's position was overrun while inside the bunker, fox holes and in the apple orchard leaving the platoon trapped.  Several hours went by while the Germans attempted to blast the G.I.'s from their position.  The Germans started using dynamite on the bunker.  Stanley Potocki and Platoon Sgt. Chet Markowski were taking turns firing out of the small door hole at the German that were attempting to set off a bomb against the door of the bunker.  Inside the bunker, Pvt. Vernon Leathers lay mortally wounded on a cot.  Several others, including Clyde Statton, were inside that bunker.  Sgt. Erich Gerloff, Pvts. Woodrow Lewis & Hjalmer Lindberg, along with many others, were in the foxholes and the heavily woods area (known to the US Army as Monkey Wrench Woods).  During this attack, many men including both Lewis, Lindberg were both killed.

Eventually, the Germans captured the men in the bunker, along with many from the foxholes and apple orchard.  Upon doing so, the group was immediately separated from one another, officers, nco's, and pfc's. and marched away.  This was probably the first time this many men were separated since starting basic training back in 1942 at Camp Phillips.  The new prisoners, many with injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to broken limbs where ordered by their captures to carry the German dead and wounded from the battlefield.  They marched for approximately 5 days through the snow to a cold boxcar. 

This is their story.

Historic research, such as this, cannot happen without relying on the help of others.  My research includes personal conversations with the surviving members of L Company, and their families.  Many of these people contributed photographic and written documentation.  Extensive photographic contributions were made by the Gerloff, Markowski, and Mayer families.  Erich Gerloff, Chet Markowski, Bob Bullmore, Clyde Statton & Frank Buffano, have all spent countless hours with me, discussing their detailed and vivid memories through the telephone, mailings, and in-person meetings (also, all of the active members of L Company reunions and their families have been very helpful and encouraging during this project).  Additionally, a significant amount of detailed information was made from June Sultan (from Mississippi), probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the United States about Camp McCain.  George Pappas and the all of the men in L Company (Jerry Coopersmith, Bob Scanlon, Hap McFadden, Alden Ives, Paul Counts, Clayton Byrd, Willard Moses, J. Dresser, Don Paulson, H. Plaster, Thompson, etc.)  were incredible in their identification of their fellow soldiers in the long L Company photograph taken at Camp McCain (identifying 135 of 175 men) in addition to providing each of their own memories and stories about the war and L Company.

A great thanks must also be given to: Dorothy Gerloff (wife of Erich Gerloff and sister of Hjalmer Lindberg), Helen Markowski (wife of Chet Markowski), Ray Ahrens, Ray J. Sherman, Maria Pinkney (daughter-in-law of Robert Pinkney), Bob Crawford, Francis Lane (wife of Benny Lane), Anthony and Ann Mayer (brother of Oscar Mayer), Paul Pezzoli (son of Julius Pezzoli), Wayne Manderschied (son of Merlin Manderschied), John Mescall (nephew of Dan Pash), Stanley & Jackie Balon (son & daughter-in-law of Leonard Balon), Linda Hartkel (daughter of Floyd Mordhorst), Carl Bakkum (uncle of Stanley Bakkum), Ken Axelson, Dick Lockhart, and Alice E. Rentas.  Many of these people and their families have opened up their hearts and homes to Lynn and I and have become good friends as well.

A special note of thanks to Speaker of the House, Dennis J. Hastert and his excellent staff in the Batavia office. Lorraine Nedza (my aunt), and Elizabeth Ann Falco (my cousin), for their information about my uncles Met and Walter.  Betty Potocki (my mother and wife of Stanley Potocki) for her incredible memory and information.  Without a doubt, my wife Lynn, who's assistance and unwavering support in this project, which is now a passion for both of us.

And finally, my father (Stanley J. Potocki), whom started this interest for me, while watching war movies with me in the 1960's as well as being a great dad.

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