Major John O. Dickerson
G-3 Tactical Operations Officer
2nd Battalion, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division
John Osburn Dickerson was born in Duluth, Minnesota, to a family from eastern Ohio. A handful of his ancestors served in the American Revolution and both grandfathers in Ohio Civil War Regiments. An eagle scout and active churchgoer, John attended two years of college before receiving an appointment to West Point from Congressman William Pittenger. While at West Point, John gained a number of new hobbies such as theater, photography, and skiing. He would graduate in 1939, choosing the Army Air Corps as his service branch.
His dreams would be short-lived, however, while in flight school he discovered a “lack of inherent flying ability” after his instructor saved his life when flying a Stearman PT-13. While landing his instructor noticed they were going too fast and yelled “brakes!” John, overreacting, found himself looking down at the instructor as he had slammed the brakes and now found the plane tail-up, standing on its propeller, saving the pair from plowing into the forest in front of them. With a change of heart, John transferred to the infantry where he jumped around from the 17th IR, the 7th ID, the 14th IR in Panama, and others before joining the 26th “Yankee Division” as a G-3 Tactical Operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 101st Infantry Regiment in November of 1943.
Arriving in France on 7 September 1944, the 26th would act as a reserve unit until seeing its first action from 8-10 November in the attack on Moyenvic, France during the Rhineland campaign. This battle is particularly unique as Dickerson played a major role in planning the tactical side of the operations and actually wrote a lesson for the Advanced Infantry Officers Course at Fort Benning based upon its success. To summarize his 32 Page Report, Dickerson’s battalion faced a determined enemy dug into a large hill, across a river, garrisoned in a town, with heavy artillery support. The situation did not look good. Dickerson, however, created an ingenious fist-like coordinated assault that saw various infantry companies attacking in organized stages to wear down the German attackers, allowing one company to eventually penetrate the German lines and capture the city, forcing the defenders to retreat.
Dickerson’s success in this attack was achieved with minimal casualties and he would become well known for his creative solutions in combat situations. The unit continued to push towards Germany facing heavy resistance. Even during their time in the woods would find no rest as the units they faced often created booby traps using 88mm shells or potato mashers ignited by tripwires. It was a stressful time for the doughboys of the Yankee division. On the morning of 16 December 1944, however, the men of the 101st Regiment faced their toughest fight yet, their “Valley Forge” according to one soldier. Following their completion of a strong campaign against the fortress-city of Metz, the men were enjoying rest and relaxation in the city. By the 19th they were informed of an impending move due to an emergency somewhere along the line, this emergency was the mass German penetration of the American forces throughout the Ardennes. Moving from Metz to the vicinity of Rambrouch, Dickerson and his company made the first contact with the enemy as they met the push of the 352nd Volksgrenadier Division and troops of the “Fuhrer Grenadier Brigade” (6,000 men transferred from Grossdetschland), both armed with American tanks, trucks, and jeeps alongside their own. Dickerson and his battalion were tasked to drive the Germans out of Arsdorf as the division made a push to the Sure River. Dickerson’s men made quick work of Arsdorf and managed to liberate the nearby village of Insenborn by Christmas Day. The Battalion continued to Liefrange, a village on the northern bank of the river, where the Germans would fight building to building in resisting Dickerson and his GIs. It was a bloody conflict of grenades clearing buildings, hidden MG nests, and heavy artillery barrages.
By 9 January the regiment found itself replacing elements of the 35th Division on the drive to Bastogne and facing soldiers of the German 5th Fallschirmjager Division. The operations in this part of the campaign were characterized by battalion-to-battalion communication and assistance. As one section would find itself suffering heavy casualties or unable to move, another battalion would leapfrog and counter the German attackers to relieve the cold, hungry, and battle-weary GIs. On 21 January the Regiment attacked the German supply center of Wiltz where they found large minefields, “schumines,” and booby-trapped German bodies for souvenir-thirsty GIs. Upon crossing the Seille River, the regiment’s role in the relief of Bastogne was complete. Successfully drawing German focus and strength from the beleaguered paratroopers in the city, Dickerson and his soldiers suffered heavy casualties and were cited by division HQ for their valiant efforts.
For his strategic initiative and role in shaping effective battalion attacks during the battle Dickerson was awarded his first Bronze Star. The rest of the war saw the regiment pushing through the Siegfried line and across the Rhine alongside the rest of the division, spearheading various attacks in Germany and leading the charge into the fatherland. Dickerson’s battalion found itself mopping up resistance in southern Germany and completed the war stationed as Corps Security in Grafenwohr.
Dickerson went on to have a distinguished military career. While stationed at Headquarters in U.S. Forces Austria, he married Maria de Pasquali di Campostellato (Ina, for short) who would be a loved companion until her death in 1989. In Korea, he was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division as again, a strategic officer, for the close-air support elements of the division. By the early 60s, he was assigned as Deputy Commander of Special Troops, U.S. Army Europe in Heidelberg, and would retire after achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. By this time he had been awarded two additional Bronze Stars for Meritorious Achievement in his battle planning. Following his assignment in Austria, Dickerson hung up his officer’s coat as it appeared when he first returned to the United States, a testament to his service in the “Great Crusade” in Europe.