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Staff Sergeant Adrian G. Herman

Combat Medic
Medical Detachment, 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment


     Adrian Herman was born on March 27, 1920, in Blue Earth, Minnesota. His grandparents, German immigrants, came to Minnesota in the late 1800s before settling in various rural communities around Faribault County. By the time of his birth, his father had taken over their family farm in Blue Earth, at the time a town of only 2,500. As Adrian grew up he soon became the oldest of five boys, ensuring a rough and tumble childhood which surely left him a little tougher than some of the other local boys. After eighth grade, he dropped out of school to begin assisting his father full-time with the farm, which he remained doing throughout the majority of the Great Depression as the economic hardships hit their small Minnesota town. By 1940, however, his father had landed a job as a salesman with a local John Deere implement dealer, and Adrian, the oldest and most resourceful, managed to get hired on as a mechanic for the various pieces of farming machinery. A notable change from the farmhand life they had both grown up doing, their newfound career did not last too long before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, entering the United States into war.

     Adrian was like many young American boys caught up in the fervor to defend his country, enlisting in the United States Army on April 12, 1942, with his younger brother to follow less than three weeks later. After completing basic he received specialized training to serve as a medic, spending some time at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, where he was promoted to sergeant. In early 1943 he finally traveled overseas, to England, with an unknown infantry unit, which also made him a Staff Sergeant that June. Spending many months in the English countryside training and enjoying the war away from the action, his time in the Isles came to an end in early 1944 when he was transferred as a replacement for the Mediterranean Theater. With mounting casualties taking a toll on Allied forces there, he was sent to a replacement depot and received his assignment to the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division during the Rome-Arno campaign. As a higher-ranking medical NCO, he was joined to the Medical Detachment of the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment. The Medical Detachment, consisting of around a dozen medical personnel, was responsible for maintaining the health and well-being of all GIs in their assigned battalion. Adrian specifically was made a combat medic, meaning he would travel with the infantry companies in their frontline actions to protect and care for any casualties incurred. It was in this role that he joined the 36th Division during their drive to Rome, a harsh campaign that would have given him plenty of combat experience to learn the ropes of medical duties in the field. By June 1944, however, the division helped to liberate Rome and drive the Germans towards Northern Italy. With the enemy on the run, they received a new target: France.


     Sent to the beachheads of Southern France, Adrian and his battalion made an amphibious assault with the rest of the 143rd Infantry Regiment on August 15, 1944, by landing on Red Beach, near St. Raphael. The invasion began a long drive through southern France chasing a retreating German army northward, taking 100 miles in the first day, capturing Grenoble within a week, and joining alongside French resistance fighters to push the German army deeper into the French countryside. With his amphibious assault arrowhead earned, Adrian and the 36th continued throughout September to chase German forces deeper inland, going through Lyons and crossing the Moselle before the Germans began fighting back with severe intensity. By early October a seven-week struggle began, forcing the T-Patchers into the dense wooded hills of the Vosges forest. 

     The Vosges fighting was combat unlike Adrian had ever seen. Different from the rolling hills of Southern France or the rocky valleys of Italy, the Vosges was full of dense trees covering neverending hilly terrain. Beyond the landscape, cold and rainy winter weather began to set in and throughout the months of October and November 1944 Adrian found himself running back and forth between the foxholes of the 2nd Battalion. The regiment was mostly stationary throughout the period, meaning most combat occurred in small patrols sent out by both sides to find the enemy lines. Even so, the fighting was as bitter as the wintery conditions, and as a combat medic, Adrian certainly played an important part in saving the lives of casualties sustained in the campaign. By mid-November, however, the Germans had pulled back to the Meurthe River, burning cities and villages in their wake to leave nothing for the advancing Americans. The 143rd Infantry led the charge to St. Leonard, crossing the river there and attacking the newly settled German positions on November 22. Finding themselves against heavy emplacements, barbed wire, and numerous concrete bunkers built only weeks earlier, the fighting proved costlier than expected. By the 24th Adrian and the 2nd Battalion had reached St. Jean as dense forest prevented the infantry battalions from advancing further. Hoping to bolster their delay, the Germans sent numerous harassing forces to slow the American pace and buy their other troops time to find better defensive postures. On the 24th the 2nd Battalion rested on the northern edge of the regimental line, north of Le Chipal, and began working its way southward to help the 1st Battalion. The attack was successful, breaking German defenses and clearing the critical Mandray-Le Chipal-Le Croix road by nightfall. Although the Germans continued to harass them with artillery and small arms fire, the 2nd Battalion continued their successful attack to take the fortified Hill 835 as German forces began combing the hills to push out American forces. Towards the end of the day, however, the regiment was notified of a move to St. Marie Aux Mines, a major settlement and current supply location in the area. By 1300 on November 26 the 2nd Battalion had arrived, reequipping itself and resting its men before they were inevitably thrown back into the line. Little did Adrian know at the time, but his next ten days of combat would be some of his toughest.

     On November 28 the 2nd Battalion was detached from the 143rd Infantry Regiment and instead sent to fight alongside the 142nd. The 142nd Infantry had been making a steady drive towards the Alsatian plain and were ready to finally make the push out of the Vosges into the towns immediately beyond, but needed extra support. At 1655 the 2nd Battalion began attacking east alongside three M4 Shermans of the 753rd Tank Battalion. Enemy roadblocks had been set up all along the valleys leading out of the forest, one even holding an anti-tank gun which caused over twenty casualties for the 2nd Battalion. Adrian, in charge of the battalion litter team, was kept busy with the constant fire as he and his men sought to drag their wounded comrades to safety during such an important push. By dark the battalion had reached Liepvre, resting for the night before continuing the advance at dawn. Upon renewal, the assault was met with yet another roadblock as the men gradually pushed into the small settlement of Bois L’Abbessee by noon. Here a German contingent supported by two self-propelled guns attempted to drive off the GIs, but not before one gun was knocked out. The Germans abandoned the village, leaving the GIs to continue driving a thousand yards onward before stopping once again for the night. Throughout the next day, the fighting was consistently severe. According to post-action reports the battalion was in “almost continuous contact” with enemy forces around the village of Hurst, taking heavy artillery and mobile flak wagon fire as they approached the junction of Val de Ville, capturing it late that night. Throughout these first three days, Adrian was constantly at work, with the heavy combat causing numerous casualties and his role as a senior medical NCO to ensure as many American lives as possible were saved. Even so, the fight was not done yet.


     With the pass out of the Vosges cleared, the next target was the most audacious yet–Selestat. The town, centered between Colmar and Strasbourg on the Alsatian plain, was held by the 716 Infanterie Division and acted as a key supply point maintaining German forces throughout the region. The 142nd Infantry planned to make the assault and cut off the German supply lines, meaning the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry, would yet again be essential in their plans. On December 1 the 2nd Battalion advanced directly east from Chatenois, a small town at the edge of the forest, beginning their attack to stiff resistance along the western edge of the city. The fighting was fierce as German troops turned every house into a potential fortress, but by the late evening, the battalion managed to push just short of the city’s railroad yard. In the early morning the assault renewed with a harsh contest over the railyards as German machine gunners and infantry put up stiff resistance in attempts to hold the T-Patchers from driving any further inward, as the 3rd Battalion of the 142nd Infantry Regiment had begun making progress driving upward from the southern edge of the city. The 2nd Battalion began pushing the enemy back by that afternoon, connecting with I Company of the 142nd which had been dramatically slowed by house-to-house fighting in the city’s southern neighborhood. Adrian and the 2nd Battalion connected with their line and together managed to spend the next two days clearing German troops out of the many city buildings they occupied. Machine guns stuck out of basement windows and booby traps sat at nearly every step. It was fierce fighting and Adrian’s litters were constantly on the move evacuating the wounded from the railyard and city streets. Urban combat was harsh and brought on many close-quarters casualties, making the job even more difficult under heavy fire. Nonetheless, Adrian ensured his men kept up the work to bring home as many wounded as possible. 

     By the morning of December 4, Selestat was clear of German forces. While the 142nd took over and began setting up defenses for a possible counterattack, Adrian and the 2nd Battalion of the 143rd were detached, taking several hours trucking away from the line to rejoin the rest of the 143rd Infantry Regiment near Ribeauville. It was not until the next day that the battalion was sent back into the line with the 143rd, this time about ten miles south of Selestat along the Riquewihr-Zellenberg Ridge. Home to a struggle between the 143rd and German forces attempting to keep them from breaking out into Alsace, Adrian’s battalion was caught up in bitter fighting throughout the day in the hills just southwest of Beblenheim. Although they cleared it, German troops still came in random pockets of scattered resistance trying to break into the village. Many of the prisoners taken were SS, coming from newly formed units brought from Germany to assist in the Colmar region. Warned of a potential counterattack that night, Adrian and his litter team worked under constant artillery and mortar fire to provide assistance to the wounded. On December 6 the 2nd Battalion was sent to take Hills 393 and 251, both overlooking the settlement of Mittelwihr which had been occupied by German forces. Heavy artillery and mortar fire struck the American positions throughout the day before a full assault was made against F Company on Hill 393, causing the other two rifle companies to swarm in support before the Germans could be driven off. 


     December 7 continued the struggle as the SS once again swarmed the 2nd Battalion positions. Information gathered from prisoners informed the T-Patchers that the Germans intended to break through their lines with the intention of swinging from the north towards Colmar, where the 3rd Infantry Division had been making great strides. Even with the concerted efforts of the SS troopers, the line held on Hill 251. On Hill 393, however, F Company buckled and was forced to withdraw. That night the battalion was put on high alert for a potential attack, but Adrian had another mission. The fighting of the past few days had left numerous infantrymen lying on the field of battle, especially in the wake of the retreat from Hill 251. The wintery weather meant these men could not be left alone for long, necessitating immediate evacuation and assistance. It was during one of these rescues that Adrian, carrying a litter bearing a wounded soldier, was struck during an intense German artillery barrage. The blast left his back full of shrapnel and cast him to the ground. Rather than abandon the mission, Adrian had the other bearer go for additional medics while he remained alongside the injured patient. According to his Bronze Star Citation, Adrian “without a thought for personal safety… valiantly remained in the shelled area with his patient until additional litter bearers could be secured.” Eventually, the additional litter arrived and both Adrian and his patient were successfully evacuated back to the 36th Division lines. Thanks to his thoughtless sacrifice and devotion to the well-being of the man under his care, another life had been saved despite Adrian’s own severe injuries. 

The injuries Adrian sustained in the artillery barrage proved worse than initially thought and ended up putting him out of action. Although thankfully alive, he spent the rest of the war recovering in various hospitals to ensure nothing left him with further damage. He regularly wrote home about his improvement and rejoined the division in time for occupation, but likely never saw combat again before the hostilities in Europe ceased. Notably, however, his actions overseeing the litter-bearing team of the 2nd Battalion during their push out of the Vosges were recognized by the division as truly heroic, earning him the Bronze Star Medal. His citation reads as follows:


For meritorious service in direct support of combat operations from November 28 to December 7, 1944, in France. During this period Sgt. Herman was assigned the mission of directing a litter squad in evacuating the casualties inflicted on companies F and G during their operations against the enemy. His task was rendered exceptionally arduous by the difficult, mountainous terrain, the long evacuation routes, and the high casualty rate. Adverse weather conditions necessitated the immediate evacuation of all the wounded and Sgt. Herman frequently removed casualties from the battlefield when all other personnel were pinned to the ground by heavy artillery and mortar barrages. On the night of December 7, during a particularly intense artillery concentration, Sgt. Herman was severely wounded while evacuating an injured soldier. Without a thought for personal safety, he valiantly remained in the shelled area with his patient until additional litter bearers could be secured.

     After several months of occupation duty, Adrian was able to return home, receiving his official discharge on December 14, 1945. He moved back to Minnesota, settling in Mankato where he married and began his own large family. Rather than return to farm life or continue his medical training, Adrian instead decided to enter the laundry industry, starting at the local Johnson Laundry before becoming a manager at the Clothing Care Center for the Kahler Corporation. Eventually, he became an owner of the company and operated it until his retirement. Even into his old age, Adrian maintained his love for antique tractors and farm equipment, surely a result of his employment before the war. He spent his days playing cards, working outside, and making plenty of time for family and friends before passing away in 2008.

     A Minnesota farm boy turned decorated combat medic, Adrian Herman embodied the American citizen-soldier. Trading in his mechanic’s tools for sutures and bandages, he saved the lives of countless American boys overseas, acting selflessly to place the lives of others above his own. May his actions never be forgotten.

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