Lieutenant Frank W. Demick
B Company, 143rd Infantry Regiment
Born in 1920 in the bustling metropolis of post-war New York City, Frank William Demick was the middle of three brothers born to a set of Polish immigrants. His parents came to the United States decades earlier and settled in Bayonne, New Jersey where Demick was born and raised. Encouraged to achieve more than his parents had been able to, he propelled through his primary education and began attending the Steward Aeronautical School in New York City as well as the Newark College of Engineering to pursue a career as an engineer. By 1940 he was working as an inspector at the Electro-Dynamic Works in Bayonne, a manufacturer of electric motors and generators for an increasingly military-centric client base. These contracts only increased after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the plant took up numerous naval contracts, primarily for the construction of PT Boat engines. In December 1942 Demick was forced to leave his work upon receiving a draft notice calling him into service with the U.S. Army. One of his brothers followed shortly after him, volunteering and becoming a medic with the 12th Armored Division, meaning the Polish-American family had officially joined the war. Demick, trained in engineering, was sent to the Coastal Artillery, and commissioned as an officer with the corps in September 1943 while stationed in North Carolina. His service saw him travel around the country, from Massachusetts to California, until the need for soldiers in Europe became more desperate. In September 1944 Demick received word that he would be sent overseas as a replacement in whatever unit might need him. Setting sail, he arrived a few weeks later to an embattled continent in the middle of its largest war yet.
After arriving in France, Demick shipped to the southern part of the American lines where he was assigned to the 36th Infantry Division. A veteran combat unit of the 7th Army, the 36th had just finished a long and grueling campaign in the Vosges Mountains of central France beating back the German 19th Army. As German SS and Heer troops fought desperately to push back the Americans from rushing across the Alsatian Plain, the 36th Infantry needed replacement soldiers and leaders to maintain its combat effectiveness and drive. On December 30, 1944, now Lieutenant Demick became a platoon leader in B Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, joining the company while on a bivouac at Cirey, France. The regiment was undergoing a series of refits, reorganizations, and training programs to bring recruits up to speed and provide some rest to the seasoned infantry who had spent the prior 133 days in constant combat. Bitter cold and snow filled the landscape as Demick and other newbies took their place among the regiment, settling in for only a few days before the regiment was once again brought back onto the front line on January 4, 1945.
Moving to Lemberg, the 143rd was slated to support an ongoing offensive of the 100th Infantry Division occurring near Bitche. The first week was primarily spent training as they had done at Cirey, but by January 10 German mortars began attacking the 1st Battalion, leading the regiment to begin sending out various combat patrols. The next several days were full of heavy patrolling as heavily dug-in Germans continued to resist any probes by the T-Patchers. On January 14 the 1st Battalion was relieved and sent back to a bivouac area to dig in and undergo further training, giving plenty of experience and preparation to men like Demick who had only joined the front less than a month prior. On the 17th the 1st Battalion went back as reserve to the 141st Infantry Regiment, but only for a short time. Fears of German forces solidifying above Strasbourg led American commanders to believe a potential push near Haguenau and Bischwiller might encircle the 7th Army. To resolve the issue, Demick and the 143rd Infantry Regiment were sent to Bischwiller on the 19th to prepare for a reinforcement action of the 12th Armored Division, with whom Demick’s brother was currently serving. German prisoners taken warned of a huge counterattack within the region, leading further armor support from the 753rd Tank Battalion and 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion to supplement the already anxious infantrymen.
The 143rd set up a line between Bischwiller and Rohrwiller down to Weyersheim, with Demick’s 1st Battalion tasked to hold a strong defensive line in the direction of Rohrwiller to keep German forces from using the main highway to advance directly into Bischwiller. The terrain consisted of flat fields with scattered forests. Snow gripped the ground as heavy cold and winter storms led men to grip tight to their cold-weather clothing. Over the next three days, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 143rd were attacked by several German detachments from the 10th SS Panzer Division, almost overrunning the lines on a few occasions. Even so, the Americans held strong. Demick’s battalion was not attacked but replaced along with the rest of the 143rd on January 22. After a four-day rest, they went back to the front, Demick’s battalion taking positions once again alongside the 142nd Infantry Regiment in the Bischwiller-Weyersheim sector. This time the 1st Battalion took part in vigorous patrolling and buildup to test nearby towns for potential weaknesses. With no more apparent offensives from the Germans, division commanders decided that it was time to strike. Little to Demick’s knowledge, this upcoming assault would lead to some of his most heroic behavior.
On February 1 Demick’s battalion moved to an assembly area near Geudertheim-Bischwiller to prepare for the upcoming attack intended to clear German resistance west of the Rhine. The 1st Battalion was specifically tasked with taking Rohrwiller, a small town south of Bischwiller known to be occupied by elements of the 10th SS. On the right of the 1st Battalion the 2nd Battalion would attack south of the town while on its left, the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment would push into the Drusenheim Forest just north of the city. Precursory patrols gave visual data on enemy troops in and around Rohrwiller, finding that it was well-defended with automatic weapons covering the entire area around the objective with heavy German positions dotting the Drusenheim treelines.
At 2200 on February 2 the 1st Battalion began its march towards Rohrwiller in the pitch black of night. Unfortunately, four days of mild temperatures had melted nearly a foot of snow in the area and flooding from the Moder River on the lowlands along the attack route meant the entire advance took place in extremely muddy fields with water ankle-deep throughout. Given the thick mud, armor support was unavailable for the attack, meaning the infantry would first be on their own. Demick, as a platoon leader, marched his men in complete silence towards the enemy town, only the sounds of sloshing boots and clinking metal breaking the hushed column. Had a single German flare gone up overhead, the entire force would be caught in the middle of the open and muddied terrain, meaning certain destruction. Even so, he and the other platoon leaders made sure to go up and down the lines as the battalion marched onward to ensure no stragglers were left behind or lost in the dark and to keep the men on the move. By the time they reached the outskirts of the city the faintest crack of light had begun to appear on the horizon. With complete surprise still on their side, Demick and B Company led the first attack, getting within 50 yards of the town before a German machine gunner challenged the shapes he saw moving through the darkness. He did not get to hear a reply before a B Company soldier managed to silence him before the German could even chamber his weapon. Within minutes, however, a machine gun nearby rang out as A Company, to B Company’s left, came under fire. The element of surprise disappeared and the battle began.
B Company first took out the machine gun nest before overrunning another machine gun position along the city’s edge. With the path open, Demick and the infantry fanned out to clear the various houses overlooking the Bischwiller road. To the delight of the T-Patchers, their surprise attack had caught the Germans entirely off guard. As the men burst through doors and cellars they found dozens of Germans resting, milling about, and generally completely unaware of the massive force assaulting the city. While some Germans put up a small fight, many more were captured without incident as their radios played with candles lit and food spread amongst their tables. Some enemy troops did resist, however, including the commanding officer of German forces in the city who burst out of a cellar pistol blazing only to be met with a quick shot from a nearby GI. Throwing grenades into basements and kicking in doors as they went building to building, by the second hour of the attack B Company’s men had captured 53 German prisoners on their own. Casualties were extremely light on their end and only scattered shots rang out from Germans seeking to resist who had to be put down. By 0300 on February 3, the town had mostly been secured, the battalion racking up over 210 prisoners from the 10th SS in their POW cage. In addition to the prisoners, the GIs had captured an ambulance, an American staff car, a Kubelwagen, several motorcycles, and even eight bags of unopened Christmas packages. All this was achieved with bare minimum losses. Rohrwiller was taken. As one technical sergeant later stated, “I’ve seen plenty of them, but that was the best-coordinated attack I’ve ever seen.”
As dawn began to break three M10 Tank Destroyers of the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion made their way up the road alongside the 143rd Regiment Cannon Company to support the 1st Battalion in the defense of the freshly-secured town. While an early morning counterattack of infantry and Panthers was pushed back by the GIs, the rest of the day found them under extremely heavy artillery fire from German forward observers who had retreated into the treeline. At one point an 88’ even took out the church steeple in the center of the town. By midnight the artillery had faded, not starting up again until dawn the next morning.
With no major German assaults the day before, on February 4 B Company was tasked to help clear the Drusenheim Forest as the 3rd Battalion of the 142nd had been stopped in its advance by heavy German defenses. B Company, on the southern end of Rohrwiller, was slated to advance across several muddy open fields to enter the southeastern edge of the woods. Demick’s platoon was selected to lead the assault alongside one of the M10s, meaning he, a comparatively fresh and inexperienced leader, would be guiding the troops across the open terrain toward a certainly hostile enemy forest. Although exhausted from the surprise attack on the town itself, Demick “skillfully” led the platoon and tank across the muddied ground towards the suspected enemy positions at the edge of the woods knowing full well that without cover, enemy artillery could devastate the group at any point. It was not until Demick and his platoon reached the edge of the woods, however, that the real trouble began. Once close to the end of the open ground a German machine gun hidden in the trees began blasting low, grazing fire across Demick’s column, pinning down his men and halting their advance. Knowing the attack was necessary to support the 142nd men northward and to shore up defense of the town, Demick quickly moved to act. While the German fire swept across his platoon Demick managed to spot the German team. With all his other men pinned, he decided that the supporting M10 was his only course of action. Rising from the mud amidst the hail of bullets, he ran for the tank calling out to its crew the location of the German soldiers. Exposing himself to “intense” and “rapid bursts” of enemy fire, Demick nonetheless put himself right beside the M10 and began directing its crew to fire point blank at the German machine gun team. With a blast the gun was silenced and the other surrounding Germans disorganized. At this moment Demick called his men to rise up and rush into the forest, taking advantage of the enemy’s confusion and securing hold of the forest emplacements. Demick’s actions were critical in opening the path through the woods, allowing the rest of B Company to spend the day pushing German troops back towards Drusenheim proper.
Thanks to his heroic actions at Rohrwiller Demick was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Army’s third-highest decoration for valor. The citation reads:
Frank W. Demick, 01059762, First Lieutenant, 143d Infantry Regiment, for gallantry in action on 4 February 1945 in France. Although fatigued by a previous attack, Lieutenant Demick skillfully led his platoon, with a supporting tank, across an open, muddy field toward enemy positions in a wooded area. As the group reached the edge of the woods, the advance was halted by low, grazing machine gun fire from the left flank. Quickly locating the German position, Lieutenant Demick rose in the face of the intense hostile fire and dashed to the tank. Boldly exposing himself to the rapid bursts of machine gun fire, he directed point-blank tank fire on the emplacement, destroying the gun and its crew. With the enemy disorganized, he ordered his men to assault. As a result of his daring and aggressive leadership, his platoon drove back the Germans and reached its objective. Entered the service from Bayonne, New Jersey.
Demick proved himself to be an exceptional combat leader during the initial attacks on Rohrwiller and the surrounding area, earning him respect from the men of B Company as they continued to drive the Germans back towards the Rhine. For the next two weeks of February, the 143rd Infantry fought across the sector to clear enemy positions and build up strong defenses against German forces hoping to penetrate the 7th Army. The fighting was not as fruitful as the initial surprise attack on Rohrwiller, but still allowed the American troops to stave off numerous German attempts to recoup their losses. With the exceptional combat performance of Demick, B Company, 1st Battalion, and the entirety of the 143rd Infantry Regiment in February 1945, the Rohrwiller-Drusenheim-Rhine sector had been secured and upheld from almost certain German penetration.
The next story of service comes from Demick’s command at the end of February. On the 23rd Demick’s battalion was sent to relieve the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division which had been spread along the Moder River in Haguenau. These positions, made famous in Episode 8 of the HBO production “Band of Brothers,” were now filled by Demick and his men as they too began the stagnant watch across the Moder as German forces stayed staunch in their defensive positions nearly two hundred yards away. Scattered shelling and small arms fire perforated the period as rifle squads holed up in the many blasted buildings and cellars, simply keeping a watch on their enemy as best they could. In one instance recalled later by a B Company soldier, Lieutenant Demick and another platoon leader, Blackwell, decided they would try and stir something up with the Germans across the river. Blackwell grabbed a BAR and Demick an M1 Garand, and the platoon leaders made their way to the second story of a house being used as a post by a rifle squad. Rather than observe, the officers decided to start firing off rounds at suspected German positions, getting off a few before a German machine gun began to respond in kind. Satisfied with their work, Demick and Blackwell went back downstairs and returned to the company command post. Unfortunately for the Rifle Squad, however, the Germans remembered the attack the next day when a tank, likely a StuG, fired four to five rounds on the upper level of the house, causing it to partially collapse and trap the rifle squad in the cellar. Thankfully a few men were able to wriggle through the rubble and get help from the company demolition team. They were not so thankful, however, when their platoon leader got mad at them for losing their bazooka and machine gun in the rubble caused by Demick and Blackwell’s actions.
As the war went on Demick continued leading his platoon across the Siegfried Line, into Germany, and in the hundreds-of-miles motor march that the 36th Division undertook while they drove deep into the Nazi heartland. By the end of hostilities on May 8, 1945, Demick had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant and, in a mere five months, become a highly decorated and successful combat leader (despite some occasional hiccups). He remained with the 36th Division throughout the occupation, being awarded his Silver Star Medal by General Dahlquist on November 10, 1945. When the division went home in December 1945, Demick decided his time had not yet come to an end, remaining in Germany to serve in the Office of Military Government during the reconstruction of the country. While in this role he met his wife, Bettie List, who was working on the staff of the U.S. Political Advisor to Germany. They married in June 1946, followed soon by his promotion to captain and yet another decoration, the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism in combat while with the 36th Division.
Demick decided to make a career out of the army, primarily working in counterintelligence across the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea, and even the Pentagon. Despite his constant movement he managed to raise a family and graduated from several programs. He trained as a special forces advisor, was regularly assigned to various army reserve units, and served as an advisor to the U.S. Army Military District in New York City. His career ended at Wright Patterson Air Force Base where he worked as Deputy Chief of Staff for Unit Training and Readiness, overseeing a total rehaul of various components of the Army reserves. He retired from there in 1963.
Saving this helmet as a keepsake, which Demick wore during his combat in WWII, he later utilized it and donated it to the Blue Island VFW Post alongside a photograph of him early during WWII and a 36th Infantry Division Patch. Although the liner had been painted for VFW duties, the shell remained in its original condition and the liner still bore “Lt. Demick” written along its webbing, a rank he held many, many years before. Demick passed away while living in Xenia, Ohio in 1999, but his memory lives on through the helmet that got him through the muddy and bloody battlefields of Europe.