Original Iron Men revisit the Battle of Metz

95th Infantry Division Veterans Gather for Emotional Reunion

02/19/2010   95th Training Division (IET) Public Affairs Staff
 

The Battle

 Sixty years ago in the picturesque rolling hills of northern France, snow blanketed the countryside as November invited a bitterly cold winter. The residents of Lorraine were continuing to live in fear and duress under the rule of Nazi Germany as they had for the previous four years. The German soldiers were dug deeply into their defensive positions, confident in their ability to repel the American liberating forces.

 

Meanwhile, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers of the 95th Infantry Division were mobilized and busy rehearsing battle plans to free the French from their captors. They conducted exercises specifically intended to prepare them for the fight of their lives.

In early August 1944, 95th Division Soldiers set sail from the shores of the United States, arriving in the United Kingdom in just over a week. This marked the first time 95th Soldiers would fight a war on foreign soil. For weeks they gathered equipment and made their way east to the Lorraine region. Their focus: break through the fortified walls of the French city of Metz which had been constructed and reinforced by generations of German soldiers.

 

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(L to R) Sgt. David Shulz, Staff Sgt. Daryl Lee and Staff Sgt. Warren Evans, members of the 95th Training Division’s prestigious Staff Sgt. Andrew Miller Club, post next to the grave of the Club’s namesake. Staff Sgt. Miller was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for heroism on the battlefield during the Division’s drive toward Metz. The three Soldiers served as members of the Color Guard during commemorative ceremonies in France. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erik Kropf, 95th Training Division (IET).

For many of the vets it was a bitter-sweet occasion. Though they were returning to the scene of their greatest victory, the memories of that fierce battled still echoed sharply in their minds, the bloody cost of freedom not lost upon them.

The incredibly cold, sharp winds ripped through the Soldier’s well-worn uniforms as they crossed tough terrain. As part of Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third U.S. Army, there was no room for error. The magnitude of the mission weighed heavily on the Soldiers’ minds. They rapidly made their way across northern France, repelling enemy attacks along the way. They began the Metz offensive early in November as they crossed the Moselle River in assault boats.

Metz had been under German control on and off since the 12th century.  The 15 forts, surrounded by a perimeter of 28 steel and concrete bastions, were built over the course of hundreds of years. With reinforcement of 210MM and 105MM guns in revolving steel turrets, Metz could withstand virtually any direct fire attack

Viewing a frontal assault on the city gates as a suicide mission, the 378th regimental commander, Col. Samuel L. Metcalf, conceived a daring deception mission. He directed a small contingent of Soldiers comprised of three rifle platoons, an anti-tank platoon, a few intelligence personnel and some cooks and clerks, to feign the depth and breadth of the regiment while the bulk of the unit swept around to the enemy’s rear. Equipped with loudspeakers, they successfully covered a nearly nine-mile front coaxing the enemy to focus their efforts on them.

The deception worked well. After an extremely difficult and bloody fight, the 95th Soldiers freed the city and captured a highly sought after German leader, Lt. Gen. Heinrich Kittel, commander of the Metz fortress.

The almost two-month campaign was costly. Over 5,000 95th Soldiers were wounded and over 600 were killed in action.

The Medal of Honor was awarded to Staff Sgt. Andrew Miller posthumously for extraordinary heroism during the campaign. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France. Six hundred and eight 95th Infantry Division Soldiers are buried in and around Metz, France.

Photo by Capt. Dale A McCurdy, 95th Training Division (IET).

French citizens line the streets to welcome their returning liberators.

The Return

This past November, some two dozen 95th Infantry Division veterans of the Battle of Metz journeyed across the Atlantic to commemorate that great period in French and American history. They returned to the site where they fiercely battled the weather, the terrain and the German occupiers. For many of the vets it was a bitter-sweet occasion. Though they were returning to the scene of their greatest victory, the memories of that fierce battled still echoed sharply in their minds, the bloody cost of freedom not lost upon them.

At the invitation of the Lorraine Etats-Unis Association and the 95th Division Association, the veterans were treated with great respect and dignity as they embarked on a painful trip down memory lane touring the city and the surrounding battlegrounds with their French hosts.

The emotional veterans visited the combat sites and the formidable river they forged before the attack. They attended wreath laying ceremonies and visited museums with artifacts from their unforgettable past. They shared many memories with each other, their family members, and the people of Metz.

Speaking of the younger generation of French citizens who welcomed him and his comrades back, Glen Magner, one of the original Iron Men of Metz, said, “Despite the fact that it’s been 65 years, it was as though we liberated them yesterday. It was so fresh, and they were so appreciative and wanted to know everything.”

A large contingent of current 95th Training Division Soldiers and family members joined the veterans on their reunion tour of Metz, including the 95th Division Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Roger B. Duff, his spouse Ms. Linda Martin-Duff, and Division Command Sgt. Maj. Don. C. Smith and his wife Ms. Wanda Smith. Others who made the journey are members of the 95th Division’s prestigious Staff Sgt. Andrew Miller Club, who formed a color guard to participate in commemorative ceremonies throughout the weeklong celebration.

“The impact the Iron Men of Metz had on the world cannot be overstated,” said Duff. “They liberated a continent by destroying an enemy bent on global domination. They accomplished their mission by never wavering in their commitment to freedom for their fellow man.

“I was impressed with the level of detail the veterans used to describe their actions on the battlefield. Clearly the ‘fog of war’ has not diminished their memories. Let us all never forget their great sacrifice to both this nation and the citizens of France.

“There is no comparing the Soldiers of the 95th Infantry Division in 1945 to those of today. Absent the comforts of today’s modern technology, the Iron Men of Metz experienced anguish far beyond the flesh wounds suffered on the battlefield.

“So much has yet to be captured by these magnificent warriors (veterans) with respect to their experiences. For they harbor them in their minds and words alone are not adequate to articulate what they endured.

“These men are America’s greatest heroes; our national treasure. We have a solemn responsibility, no; an obligation to preserve their history, gallantry and sacrifice.”

Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erik Kropf, 95th Training Division (IET).

Several returning 95th Infantry Division veterans pose near a monument with a group of enthusiastic young French children.

Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erik Kropf, 95th Training Division (IET).

A returning veteran and his family weep at the grave of a fallen comrade.

Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erik Kropf, 95th Training Division (IET).

The Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France, the final resting place for hundreds of American Soldiers who fought to liberate France from Nazi domination.

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God bless them all who served with my dad in the 95th
Created by Anonymous in 7/23/2011 10:35:42 PMMy father served and helped liberate Metz with all those brave men.
Grandson, Earl W. Wolff B Comp 379th Inf
Created by Sloan Wolff in 4/4/2011 5:57:18 AMMy grandfather was an "Iron man of Metz" He was personally awarded the Bronze Star by General G.S. Patton...still own and display all of his Medals and the citation letter. His greatest gift to me? From the time he went into the service, 1942, till he was discharged, honorably, he kept everything and sent it home to my Grandmother..all Division Christmas cards, menus, all maps from Fort Sam Houston, Camp Polk, LA. Everything that pertained to The 95th Inf. Div....I know if he were alive, he and I would of gone on this trip together..he was and "Iron Man" for life!

   

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