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Captain Walter A. Leigon

Company Commander

F Company, 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division  

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Walter A. Leigon was born in November 1918, the sixth of ten children in the Leigon family, while they resided in Morgan, Texas. The large family had moved to the small town in Bosque County several years prior as Leigon’s father sought continuous employment. In his early years, this was difficult as his father looked to provide for the large family doing farming, working in a barbershop, and even assisting a local railroad. Eventually, he landed a solid job at a nearby gypsum mine, allowing for their long-term settlement. Tragically, the family’s newfound stability came into chaos when Leigon’s mother, Minnie, passed away suddenly in 1929, leaving his father and the boys of the family to provide. Morgan was a small, rural, central Texas town home to only around 500 residents during his childhood, proving a close community with which the Leigons were able to integrate themselves as noteworthy members. In high school Leigon truly found his knack in athletics, landing a lead spot on the county football team in the late 1930s which led he and his teammates across the state in successful competition. He graduated in 1940 and, unsure of his fate in the small town, decided to join the national guard in November of that year.

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He was attached to his local unit, HQ Company of 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, of the 36th ‘Texas’ Division. Despite the unit’s lack of any meaningful military equipment, now Private Leigon performed regular drilling with the company in the town square along with a few dozen local boys. This went on for his first month of service until the entire division was officially mobilized for federal service in December, leading Leigon and the 50 others in his company to travel to Camp Bowie where they united with the other guard detachments, bringing together the entire division. Leigon spent most of 1941 at the camp training with the division, learning the basics of military operations and putting the camp back together into working shape. One year after they were mobilized, however, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and everything changed. Within two months the 36th was moved to Louisiana where Leigon joined them for the army-wide maneuvers practicing large-scale battle tactics. Afterward, the division moved once again, this time to Camp Blanding, Florida. Leigon did not stay here long, though, as he was selected to attend Officer Candidate’s School over the summer of 1942. He did so at Fort Benning and upon graduation in August, received his orders to leave the 36th Division for a newly forming one out west–the 104th Infantry Division.

 

A fresh lieutenant, Leigon journeyed for Camp Adair, Oregon where the 104th was organizing its first batch of officers and enlisted men to create the foundation of the division. His first assignment was as the intelligence officer for the 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment where he assisted in putting together a training regimen for the troops to teach the basics of coordinated unit combat at all levels. In March 1943 he was given a brief leave so that he could return home to Texas and marry his sweetheart, Lena, coming back to Camp Adair a few weeks later with her by his side. The rest of the year continued in regular training activities but in June 1944, as the European army fought through Normandy, the 104th was shifted to Camp Carson in Colorado Springs and within a few weeks was slated for overseas service in the European theater. On 27 August Leigon and the rest of the division shipped out of New York harbor aboard the SS Lejeune making their way directly to France, the first division of the US Army to skip England on their journey. 

Leigon with two of his brothers before the war
Leigon with two of his brothers before the war

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Leigon with his then-girlfriend, Lena, while in the National Guard
Leigon with his then-girlfriend, Lena, while in the National Guard

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December 1943
December 1943

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Leigon with two of his brothers before the war
Leigon with two of his brothers before the war

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On 7 September the division landed in France in a bombed-out shell of a port. Their first weeks on the continent were rather uncertain as to their combat disposition so the men spent their time playing sports, marching, training with their weapons, and above all, simply wondering where they would end up. It wasn’t until 15 October that they received orders to board a series of 40-and-8 boxcars which took them from the coast all the way to Belgium, near Michelin-Malines. Leigon and the battalion hopped aboard the trucks of Polish troops to bring them to their first combat command, under the Canadian First Army, with the inevitable goal of invading Holland and clearing Antwerp. The 413th entered the line on the 23rd to begin a week of combat patrols assisted by British Churchill tanks of a nearby armor regiment. The regiment’s first big advance began on the 26th where the 2nd Battalion, supported by the British heavy armor, attempted to advance towards Zundert. Intense artillery and small arms fire from the entrenched Germans, however, delayed them heavily. The second day of the assault saw Leigon’s strategic planning perform slightly better when the battalion attacked and neutralized a nearby chateau and woods that were home to a harassing detachment of German soldiers. Even so, heavy artillery kept pace and prevented the drive from achieving its desired speed and depth. In the early morning hours of the 28th, the 413th managed to finally break into Holland, reaching Zundert and holding it until they were ordered to create defensive positions at Zeppe two days later. The regiment was ordered to continue the push on 2 November with preparations to cross the Mark River. Leigon’s 2nd Battalion crossed first at 2100 under the cover of friendly artillery fire. Riding their rubber assault boats in the darkness, the crossing went smoothly until they began advancing further. The terrain at this point in Holland was “as flat as a table” with raised roads on top of dikes providing the only cover. It was a treacherous engagement but the 104th had the element of surprise on its side. The German forces did not expect such a night engagement and, while it was easy to attack our troops without cover, their disorganization played into the ability of the GIs to maneuver and seize their objectives. The 2nd Battalion fought fiercely throughout the next day as massive artillery barrages rocked the unit and multiple armor-supported German counter attacks took their toll, even wounding the battalion commanding officer. By 6 November, however, the unit had managed to mostly push back the Nazi defenders, securing a notable foothold in the Dutch countryside.

Map of the 104th's advance in Holland
Map of the 104th's advance in Holland

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Map of the 104th's advance in Holland
Map of the 104th's advance in Holland

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With the advance halted, the 104th was placed under orders for immediate repositioning, this time to Germany. On 7 November they were trucked to Aachen, Germany to relieve the 18th Infantry Regiment, spending several days settling in and making a new defensive line on their brand new front, patrolling to feel out the location of enemy forces. A new assault began on the 16th when the 2nd Battalion launched off on German positions around 1245. They were tasked with knocking out a series of German pillboxes and spent several days doing so after resistance proved stronger than they originally thought. The next segment of the advance targeted the city of Rohe, leaving the 2nd Battalion to jump off under smoke cover to gain ground in a heavily contested part of the line. They advanced with the help of M4 Shermans from C Company, 750th Tank Battalion, but even so were still delayed by withering artillery fire, only providing enough support to create a toehold by the end of the day. 21 November saw the battalion shoring up their positions after a house-to-house firefight throughout the morning hours. The Germans attempted several counterattacks throughout the next few days, each supported by numerous Panzers, but the 2nd Battalion's hold on the city proved strong and the point stayed under allied control. Throughout the following week, the men moved to Durwiz and Weisweiler, each replacing a battered 3rd Battalion and conducting reconnaissance operations for movement on the Inden River. The regiment maintained its momentum, renewing the attack on the 27th as they pushed against positions south of Lamersdorf. Here the GIs once again faced withering artillery and small arms fire. According to one 2nd Battalion report, the Germans “literally poured machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire” onto the troops, halting the attack 300 yards from where it began. After bolstering the small gains, they pushed again the next day, finally gaining a small hold on the southern edge of the city. Early the next morning armor support from the 750th Tank Battalion once again joined the Timberwolves for a day of desperate house-to-house combat which netted the collapse of the city around midnight on 30 November. 

 

The extreme fighting in Lamersdorf proved costly upon the 2nd Battalion, most notably injuring the F Company commander, Lieutenant Frank Strebel. Void of leadership amidst the fight, Leigon was chosen to be the next to lead F Company and in the final days of November, assumed his role as the commanding officer for the unit, leaving behind his position with the battalion headquarters. Earned amidst a month of fighting through slogging rain, bogged mud, and against an extremely well-equipped and motivated foe, Leigon now took the reins to lead his own company from the edge of Germany deep into the heartland of the Reich.

 

Although other units of the 2nd Battalion were still fighting over the streets of Inden, F Company’s work at Lamersdorf earned them a well-needed rest, leaving the line for a reserve position early in December. By 5 December most of the 104th’s advance was halted and the division was placed in reserve, giving all of its men plenty of opportunity to recover from the long stretch of intense combat they had endured in Holland and Germany. Their re-entrance into combat did not come until the Battle of the Bulge began on 18 December when the division was slated to move north, replacing the 9th Infantry Division in the Roer River area, Leigon and F Company specifically getting assigned to the area between Merode and Schlich. The company dug numerous emplacements across the area, sending patrols and attempting to make a secure line in the chance of an expanded German counter-offensive. Thankfully, none came, and throughout the months of December, January, and most of February,  Leigon and the Timberwolves saw minimal combat, instead passing their time by watching for possible movement across the Roer River. During the period Leigon became a more accustomed sight to the F Company men, having plenty of time to meet and form relationships with his troops, bonds that would come in handy when they were once again ordered into the fray.

3 December 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th IR troops in Inden, Germany
3 December 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th IR troops in Inden, Germany

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29 November 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment troops in Frenz, Germany
29 November 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment troops in Frenz, Germany

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3 December 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th IR troops in Inden, Germany
3 December 1944 - 2nd Battalion, 413th IR troops in Inden, Germany

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On 23 February the long-stagnant 104th was once again on the move. Having stared at the Roer for nearly three months, the division was finally given permission to cross it and on that night began the process via their small rubber assault boats. The 2nd Battalion of the 413th was the last of the regiment to cross, traveling towards Mariaweiler in the chilly darkness. The 24th found Leigon leading F Company into the city of Birkesdorf while the rest of the battalion took on Duren, a German strongpoint on the way towards their primary objective, Arnoldsweiler. By the time the Timberwolves arrived at Duren, it was nothing but a pile of smashed rubble, fires sporadically lighting the tragic landscape totally devoid of civilian life. Hidden amongst the destruction, however, were remaining detachments of local German forces who decided to put up a strong defense in the city’s train marshaling yards. G Company spent most of the day fighting through these Germans while Leigon’s company prepared to assault one of the more treacherous landmarks in the area: Castle Rath. It was in this impressive next assault on an ancient fortress that the German line would not only be crippled, but Leigon would play a major role in earning his battalion the Presidential Unit Citation.

 

Around midnight on 24 February Leigon was tasked with defeating major enemy positions that threatened the American forces seizing the critical juncture of Arnoldsweiler. While G Company was dealing with enemy forces in Duren, his next mission became the capture of Castle Rath, home to a notable German detachment and a major strongpoint threatening the Allied lines. By taking the castle, Leigon could disrupt German forces gathering outside Arnoldsweiler and isolate several of their main battle groups. It was a necessary, but highly difficult, feat. Leigon’s men left Birkesdorf around 0130 in the early morning hours of the 25th, carefully traversing through the Duren marshaling yard before making contact. In the process of moving through the railyard, F Company assisted the other companies of the 2nd Battalion in flanking several German positions, pushing back the enemy platoons before they continued on their way towards their medieval objective.

December 1944 - Leigon sitting atop a knocked-out StuG III with his field radio
December 1944 - Leigon sitting atop a knocked-out StuG III with his field radio

Courtesy of Albert Trostorf

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Crossing the Roer River
Crossing the Roer River

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Birkesdorf from the air
Birkesdorf from the air

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December 1944 - Leigon sitting atop a knocked-out StuG III with his field radio
December 1944 - Leigon sitting atop a knocked-out StuG III with his field radio

Courtesy of Albert Trostorf

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The castle itself consisted of three primary parts, a large outer keep, a smaller, more robust inner fort, and a sizable moat surrounding both of these structures. Entrance into the fortress was only possible via three bridges on the west, north, and southeast corners of the compound. The inner castle was only accessible via a smaller bridge connected to the larger keep. To maintain flexibility and a sound assault, Leigon broke F Company into its three platoons, sending 1st and 2nd Platoon northward while 3rd Platoon moved around the castle’s southern side, all under the cover of the early morning darkness. A few minutes into their movement 2nd Platoon was sent to the flank along the right side of the castle while Leigon ordered 1st Platoon to secure the woods outside of the castle to its left. The first attempt to enter came when 2nd Platoon began moving across the southeastern bridge, which was half open and rather obnoxiously constructed, making it difficult to efficiently maneuver. Although ladened with six extra bandoliers of rifle ammo and a spare mortar round per man, the platoon managed to sneak up on the compound, silently dispatching a German sentry before another inside caught them right as they reached the gate. It was then that “all hell broke loose.” 

 

The platoon triggered a storm of fire from inside the courtyard as they discovered it contained not only German infantry, but five half-tracks with mounted machine guns and a self-propelled gun, believed to be a StuG. GIs racing to react brought up a set of bazookas and were able to quickly knock out one of the half-tracks before being driven back across the bridge, but not before their platoon leader was killed and four others wounded. One of the squads attempted an immediate maneuver towards the western gate but the StuG spotted them, opening fire and pinning them down. Around this point, Leigon had 1st Platoon move from the woods but they were immediately placed under fire from two enemy machine guns in elevated positions. Thankfully a survivor from 2nd Platoon noticed the crossfire and was able to knock out the guns using white-phosphorus rifle grenades.

A map of Castle Rath drawn by Leigon in an interview done a week after the battle
A map of Castle Rath drawn by Leigon in an interview done a week after the battle

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Top-down view of Castle Rath today
Top-down view of Castle Rath today

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Part of the interview with Leigon regarding the battle for Castle Rath
Part of the interview with Leigon regarding the battle for Castle Rath

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A map of Castle Rath drawn by Leigon in an interview done a week after the battle
A map of Castle Rath drawn by Leigon in an interview done a week after the battle

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With 2nd Platoon pinned by enemy fire and the entire German force within the castle mobilizing to fight off the midnight attackers, Leigon was forced to think on his feet in order to maintain the assault and keep the momentum. In a decisive move, he ordered the pinned platoon to begin firing any and all weapons at anything they could or couldn’t see. Given their rather difficult predicament, this entailed some men firing straight up into the air or blindly over walls towards the castle. Leigon intended for their commotion to fool the enemy into believing they were the main attacking force moving on that part of the castle. Simultaneously, he reached the 3rd Platoon with his SCR-300 radio and ordered them to quietly advance from their reserve position towards the western gate. The bridge was fully intact but Leigon had them wade through the water of the moat to avoid enemy fire and recognition. Once the group was lined up along the castle’s walls, the command was given to charge inside guns blazing. The ruse worked. The majority of the Germans inside had maneuvered towards the distraction caused by 2nd Platoon, leaving the courtyard devoid of heavy resistance. 3rd Platoon ran inside under some small arms fire but quickly killed several Germans and overran the remaining half-tracks. The Germans had been entirely convinced 2nd Platoon was the main attacking force and now 3rd Platoon had fully secured and pushed through the gate. Watching the bomb rush unfold, the StuG decided to drive full speed out of the southeast gate, cutting straight through the men of 2nd Platoon and driving down the road off into the night. The fighting went on in the castle as daylight began to break as 2nd Platoon joined 3rd to solidify and seize the main buildings. Roughly 30-40 enemy troops were killed in the clearing and a machine gun was set up directly facing the western gate towards Arnoldsweiler in case a counterattack was to spring up. Not long after, E Company and the F Company mortars rejoined Leigon and his men, setting up a perimeter outside of the castle to provide assistance where needed.

 

Within a few minutes, the infantry inside began their assault on the inner building, using BARs to spray the windows and keep German troops locked inside from returning fire. At the same moment, six more German self-propelled guns and 50 infantrymen were spotted moving through the woods, taking positions near the railroad tracks outside and opening fire on the GI-occupied portion of the castle. The Germans inside attempted to put up a fight, spraying submachine guns from various doors and windows to discourage movement across the single bridge spanning the moat to the inner keep. The platoon leader of 3rd Platoon had other ideas, however, and grabbed four Panzerfausts from dead Germans, tossed them to his men, and fired them into the windows of the building while ordering the rest of his platoon to rush inside amidst the chaos. They did and began fanning out to clear the many rooms within the building, which mostly consisted of spraying doors with BARs or grease guns and then tossing concussion grenades to finish off any survivors. As the upper floors were being cleared the enemy commander, a major, emerged with a white flag from the basement of the keep and requested a formal surrender. The castle had been conquered.

Castle Rath, the inner keep
Castle Rath, the inner keep

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Castle Rath, the main gate to the inner keep
Castle Rath, the main gate to the inner keep

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Castle Rath, the inner keep
Castle Rath, the inner keep

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While his men were fighting over the last building Leigon was kept busy by the new threat imposed through the StuGs and infantry now retargeting the inner building. Grabbing his radio operator, he began screaming through the phone for any and all artillery to hit the enemy position which was slowly becoming a sizeable counteroffensive. Although he was unable to hear any replies from his battalion commander, he believed his voice was getting through and continued to give updates while shouting out coordinates, promising he would stay on the line and correct them the moment the shells landed. A few minutes later his requests were rewarded with the scream of artillery hitting the SPGs right on the nose, causing the infantry support to scatter and the guns to retreat almost immediately. Meanwhile, the troops inside were preparing defenses across the castle. The surrender of the commander left the platoon with 114 prisoners inside but the impending counterattack meant only three GIs could be spared to guard them. Thankfully, the men also found a dozen American prisoners from another regiment of the 104th held captive inside, giving them some extra numbers as they prepared for the impending assault. 

 

Outside the castle, Leigon and the 1st Platoon spotted a column of roughly 225 enemy infantry moving towards the castle on retreat from Arnoldsweiler. Rather than openly engage, Leigon had the platoon hold their fire until the Germans were within 100 yards. At that second, the order came to open fire as every weapon, including the company mortars within the castle walls, began pouring onto the exposed German company walking through the empty field. The results were devastating. Within minutes over half of the enemy forces were killed with the rest attempting to flee in whatever direction they could. According to one technical sergeant who took over for the platoon after its leader was killed, the men “killed Germans until it almost made them sick.” By the end of the slaughter, only 20 Germans remained to surrender, joining their comrades inside the fort. 

 

The final bouts of German resistance came right after the firefight in the field when an 88mm gun appeared on a hill overlooking the castle and began firing into its southeastern gate. The men inside quickly responded by grabbing an abandoned German 81mm mortar and began firing at will until they landed directly on top of the enemy gun. A white flag popped up in the process but no Germans appeared so the mortar continued firing, prompting two of the 88’s artillerymen to come out and surrender. They warned the GIs that there were seven more back at the gun, afraid to surrender, so a group was sent to escort them. The patrol instead found a dozen more Germans waiting at the gun, bringing them back to add to the already massive pile inside. At 0830, with the castle mostly secure, Leigon and F Company saw their last Germans when seven StuGs motored up the castle road. At first thought to be the American armor support the company was expecting, instead, the tanks simply fired blindly at the GIs as they drove straight through their lines and continued onward, tragically killing one of the Timberwolves in the process. By 1030 the final objective, a piece of high ground east of the castle, had been captured and the overwhelming ordeal brought to cease. The final count by the end of the fight found Leigon’s company netting 319 prisoners taken in and around the castle, seven of them officers, and all from the 1st Battalion, 10th Panzergrenadier Regiment, 9th Panzer Division. Little had they known, but Castle Rath was indeed a regimental headquarters and prep site for a major counterattack into Arnoldsweiler. Nearly 200 Germans were killed in the attack while GI casualties sat at only four men killed and 18 wounded. It was a major victory.

The F Company men who knocked out the German 88mm gun and their captured mortar inside Castle Rath
The F Company men who knocked out the German 88mm gun and their captured mortar inside Castle Rath

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2nd Battalion men in Duren
2nd Battalion men in Duren

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The F Company men who knocked out the German 88mm gun and their captured mortar inside Castle Rath
The F Company men who knocked out the German 88mm gun and their captured mortar inside Castle Rath

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For their harsh fighting over the course of that night and the major impact it had on securing that sector of the 104th Infantry Division’s advance, the 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, in no small part thanks to the actions of Captain Leigon and F Company in overrunning and eradicating German forces at Castle Rath:

 

“The 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment, is cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty against the enemy in the vicinity of Duren, Germany, during the period 24 to 26 February 1945. In the first of a series of night thrusts, the battalion advanced across 2,000 yards of flat terrain crisscrossed by enemy entrenchments, to seize a railroad marshaling yard, its initial objective. Two hundred enemy troops were killed and captured in the attack. Quickly reorganizing, the 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment, repulsed, without yielding ground, three enemy counterattacks by German infantry supported by self-propelled guns and mortars. At 0300, 25 February, the battalion again advanced under cover of darkness to seize the next objective, a moated castle 3,000 yards away. Although all approaches to the castle were defended and the surrounding woods occupied by enemy troops, the 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment, assaulted the strongpoint and engaged in hand-to-hand combat until all resistance was overcome and the garrison either killed or captured. At daylight, the battalion was counterattacked from the rear and front simultaneously by enemy infantry now supported by artillery, as well as self-propelled guns, flak guns, and mortars. Containing the frontal counterattack by fire, the American battalion destroyed the attacking force in its rear. Then by concentrating all fire power to the front, the second enemy force was annihilated. This success was followed up by an aggressive assault, which completely overran the main enemy defenses in the area consisting of elaborate entrenchments and 88mm guns in concrete emplacements. The final action led to the breakout of American armor onto the Cologne plain. The initiative, courage, and aggressiveness of the 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment and its attached units are in keeping with the finest traditions of the armed forces of the United States.”

 

The final days of the month were spent reorganizing and moving through several more towns, Morschenich and Ahe, which were captured with minimal effort.

One of Leigon's men next to a German pillbox outside of Castle Rath
One of Leigon's men next to a German pillbox outside of Castle Rath

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104th ID advance across the Roer
104th ID advance across the Roer

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Lt. Bartlett, one of Leigon's platoon leaders at Castle Rath
Lt. Bartlett, one of Leigon's platoon leaders at Castle Rath

Courtesy of Albert Trotstorf

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One of Leigon's men next to a German pillbox outside of Castle Rath
One of Leigon's men next to a German pillbox outside of Castle Rath

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Even after such a substantial victory at Castle Rath, Leigon and his company pushed onwards deeper into Germany as the regiment followed the 3rd Armored Division across the Erft River and through numerous bombed-out German cities. On 3 March F Company once again had the opportunity to take yet another German castle, this time at Schlenderhan. This castle was more of an elaborate estate, however, but it still put up a fight. Moving up the hill that the estate sat upon at around 0400, the men ran into small arms fire at the gatekeeper’s house which was “flushed out pretty quick.” Heavier fire then began from the right wing of the castle and the trenches that had been dug in the front of the main building. Leigon had the men hold off, calling in timed artillery fire onto the Germans instead while they awaited for a group of tanks to rejoin them from down the road. Once the Shermans rolled up the attack continued, the infantry rushing into the compound and opening fire. The battle was not nearly as tough as that for Castle Rath but nonetheless, it took the capture of their commanding officer, a company commander who was tackled to the ground near a horse stable when a GI’s rifle jammed, before the last enemy combatants surrendered. The total for this estate was the officer plus an additional 57 prisoners with 25 Germans killed in the process. F Company then had a grand time enjoying themselves with the castle’s fineries, playing with gramophones and pianos, singing tunes, and digging through the wine cellar. The next day, on 4 March, a Yank correspondent visited the company, joining Leigon and some of the others in a sitting room inside the castle. In an article written from his conversations with the men, he learned that Castle Schlenderhan was in fact the fifth castle the company had taken since they had crossed the Roer, the second in only five days. Leigon described how the first, Castle Rath, was “right out of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table,” particularly when compared to this new conquest, “as modern as anything you’d find back in the states.” Knocking at some of his men for playing with Victrolas or wine while others had been fighting in the stables, Leigon went on to retell the story of Castle Rath and the harrowing battle they fought there, concluding that “Schloss Schlenderhan was a damned sight easier to take than Schloss Rath.” He described how at this castle, more of an elite estate for horse-raising and fine living, the enemy was a little less prepared, giving up by offering US-made surrender pamphlets they pulled from their toilet paper provisions in hopes of receiving fair treatment from their captors. Towards the end of the evening, as the fire dimmed and singing from the piano a few rooms over echoed into the darkened sitting room, a company runner suggested that F Company change its name to “Castle Company,” stating that “then maybe we could get Captain Leigon promoted to a Baron.” Leigon, slumped on a couch, replied glumly with an unenthused, “Yeah.”


 

On 6-7 March F Company moved from its comfortable castle to replace the 8th Infantry Division near Effern, encountering some slight resistance but digging in for nearly two weeks of defensive positioning along the western bank of the Rhine. The weeks were spent patrolling and preparing for a new offensive, this time intended to cross the Rhine and advance onward into the Nazi homeland. On the 21st, under a wide smokescreen, the 413th Infantry crossed the Rhine along a pontoon bridge, relieving the 26th Infantry Regiment near Remagen, the 2nd Battalion setting up just east of Wullscheid. Although this was not a major attack, the next few days gave Leigon and his company plenty of action as the regiment advanced against German positions immediately to their front, hoping to displace and weaken the line for the upcoming army-wide attack. On the right flank of the division, the 413th overran a German airfield east of Eudenbach while Leigon’s company was once again sent to take yet another castle. This time, however, Leigon acted with enough personal valor to not win another unit citation, but the Silver Star Medal. His citation reads: 

 

“Captain Walter A. Legion, (Army Serial Number O1289279), Infantry, Company F, 413th Infantry, United States Army, for gallantry in action in Germany on 23 March 1945. When his company was held up in its advance by well-fortified enemy positions in a large castle, Captain Leigon called for tank support. The tanks were stopped in their advance by a roadblock, thereupon Captain Leigon and a companion went back to designate an alternate route. Although he and his companion were wounded, they continued their mission, guiding the tanks forward and designating targets from an exposed position. The fire from the tanks reduced enemy resistance and forced them to withdraw. Captain Leigon’s singular gallantry, courage, and fearlessness in the face of enemy fire exemplify the finest traditions of the American combat commander and reflect distinct credit on himself and the military service. Entered military service from Clifton, Texas.”

 

Simply acting according to the gallant standards with which he led his men to attack the many other fortresses they had come across, Leigon’s service represented the “finest traditions of the American combat commander,” and thus the division saw fit to reward him with the nation’s third highest medal for valor. It was an award well deserved. 

2nd Battalion soldiers at Manheim
2nd Battalion soldiers at Manheim

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Schloss Schlenderhan
Schloss Schlenderhan

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2nd Battalion troops in Weisweiler
2nd Battalion troops in Weisweiler

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2nd Battalion soldiers at Manheim
2nd Battalion soldiers at Manheim

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As the division secured more positions along the Rhine, the time came for the new major offensive to begin. On 25 March Leigon and the 413th Infantry mounted up on tanks of the 3rd Armored Division and over the next week, leapfrogged themselves over 100 miles into Germany, capturing thousands of prisoners in the process and eliminating small clusters of German resistance. Early April brought on what came to be known as the “Battle of the Ruhr,”' where the 104th fought to break up massed resistance in the famous German industrial region. Leigon and F Company began the month by attacking SS troops defending various road junctions and several small towns. Despite the incredible penetration into Germany, the enemy fought ferociously and dug in, refusing to give a single inch. From 2-3 April the company fought through Rimbech with armor support from B Company of the 750th Tank Battalion, clearing numerous enemy combatants from the towns of Scherfede and Hardehausen where several German units sought to make their final stand. By the 4th most resistance had been broken and the grand total of prisoners for the advance jumped to over 3,500.

 

Leigon and his company passed through more and more desolate German villages, watching as a retreating but encouraged enemy put up its last gasp in hopes of stopping the Allied conquest. Movement during the period was very fluid with patrols and rapid movements creating most of the contact that was made with the enemy. On the morning of 8 April F Company crossed the Weser River in the early morning, securing a bridgehead to support the drive of the 3rd Armored Division, and capturing hundreds of prisoners in the process. From 12-19 April the division joined several others in rooting out Germans holed up in the Harz Mountains, where small but intense battles characterized the looming reality of ultimate German defeat. By 20 April serious contact with the enemy came to a halt, a surprisingly quick reprieve from the desperate combat the Germans had exhibited the month before. The German absence was not long, however, when thousands and thousands of the Reich’s military began flooding through the lines of the division, all to avoid capture by the rapidly enclosing Russian army. During this time the 413th occupied the area around Duben, adding nearly 10,000 prisoners to its total within a matter of days. Leigon and F Company were given the unique task to make contact with Russian forces on behalf of the regiment. He sent one of his best platoon leaders, Lieutenant Bartlett, who after an 18 mile patrol ran into elements of the 118th Russian Guards Division. Here the groups exchanged strategic information before returning to their own lines, where in Leigon’s case, they simply held regular patrols until the day of Germany’s full surrender brought their war in Europe to a close. 

Captain Leigon alongside his men of F Company, 413th Infantry Regiment
Captain Leigon alongside his men of F Company, 413th Infantry Regiment

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Leigon in uniform after the war
Leigon in uniform after the war

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Leigon's gravestone
Leigon's gravestone

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Captain Leigon alongside his men of F Company, 413th Infantry Regiment
Captain Leigon alongside his men of F Company, 413th Infantry Regiment

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Unfortunately, Leigon and the 104th were under occupation for less than a month when the entire division was told to pack its bags for transport to the Pacific Theater. On 26 June the 413th loaded aboard trucks headed for Camp Lucky Strike where they set out for home, landing in Staten Island on 3 July 1945 to the sound of bands, cheers, and delicious Red Cross food. For their hard service in Europe, all the men were given a 30-day leave to go home and visit their families, Leigon returning to Texas for the first time in at least a year. He and the rest of the men began to reassemble in early August in California, prepping the division for a new theater and type of warfare they had yet to see. At the same time, however, two atomic bombs were dropped upon the Japanese mainland and within a week, the mighty empire they were intended to conquer laid down its arms. By the end of the month, the battle-weary but willing Timberwolves were officially stood down for a permanent rest.

 

It was not until October 1945 that the points requirement became low enough for Leigon to earn his discharge, leaving the army as a Captain, proudly displaying a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, and three campaign stars upon his chest. Not one to stay idle, however, he took quick advantage of the GI Bill and began studies at the University of Texas at Austin where he graduated with a degree in Business Administration in 1948. He later went on to get an MBA from the University of Houston in 1954 followed by his qualification as a certified public accountant only a year later. Leigon, once the leader of a tough band of several hundred fighting Timberwolves, settled into a thirty-year career as an accountant and director with the Exxon Company, working at multiple sites across Texas but primarily at their headquarters in Houston. A man of people, his leadership skills led him to involvement with his local Methodist Church, coaching the little league baseball teams for his two sons, leading tax work groups for senior citizens, running a boy scout troop, and in all becoming a renowned member of his community. In 1978 Leigon retired from Exxon and lived out the rest of his life in comfort alongside his wife, children, and grandkids. From a lowly enlisted national guardsman to a highly decorated company commander, Leigon embodied the “citizen soldier” who defined a generation, leaving his Texas home to perform incredible acts against a despicable foe to secure the free future of the United States, Europe, and the world.