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Private First Class Delmer C. Koonter

Rifleman

I Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment

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Below is the story of PFC Delmer Koonter, the great-grandfather of the author of this website. It was finding his objects and learning his story that inspired me to do what I do. For as long as I shall live I pray to keep the story and sacrifice of Delmer's wartime service alive within my family, reminding them of his service in the tremendous 36th Infantry Division and of our own small part in that great and terrible world war.

The complete group of Delmer's military artifacts
The complete group of Delmer's military artifacts

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Delmer's ike jacket
Delmer's ike jacket

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Some of the coins Delmer brought home
Some of the coins Delmer brought home

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The complete group of Delmer's military artifacts
The complete group of Delmer's military artifacts

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Delmer Carl Koonter was born in a small wooden farmhouse amongst the rolling fields just outside the town of Laingsburg, Michigan on 13 April 1913. His parents had settled in the area several years earlier to be closer to much of the Koonter family that populated the region, most of them German immigrants. Delmer’s father, Herman, came to the United States two decades earlier when his family migrated from their hometown of Lochingen in Posen Province, Prussia to central Michigan. Changing his name from “Kanter” to the more anglicized Koonter, Herman and his parents came to Laingsburg where they began a family farm and he soon met his wife, a local Michigander. Delmer was born several years into the marriage as the couple had lost two other children in infancy with only Delmer and an older sister surviving. By this point, Herman was the one running the large family farm and as the only son, Delmer spent much of his younger years attending school, working on cars (his father was very interested in automobiles after other members of the Koonter family began a successful car dealership), and helping his father with the crops. Although not the brightest student, Delmer did well enough in school and graduated in 1931. Despite his newfound adulthood, the Great Depression hit Laingsburg as much as any other town and Delmer found himself once again working the farm to ensure their survival. In the late 1930s, a bright light appeared in his life, Delmer’s newfound love, Erma Stevens. The two began to court and after a few years, married quietly in March 1940. 

The couple started life by purchasing a 1937 Chevrolet Coupe from Delmer's aunt and moving into the farmhouse nestled on the family farm which Delmer still worked for the first few years of their marriage. While they were still settling, however, world events began to make their way more and more into the little farming community as Europe fell to the Nazi regime of Germany, the home of Delmer’s father, grandparents, and many of his relatives. In 1941, as Delmer welcomed his first son, Steve, the world welcomed global war when the Japanese Empire launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, ushering the United States into World War II. The first couple of years of the conflict saw Delmer watching from the sidelines as local Laingsburg men quit their farms and jobs, donned the uniforms of the armed services, and left the town behind. As a farmer Delmer was considered an essential worker, thus avoiding the first waves of drafts and allowing life to move on as the family prospered. As casualties took their toll, however, the government decided to lessen their restrictions and in the fall of 1943, Delmer received his notice that the time had come for him to report for military service. It was a cold January afternoon when Delmer stood on the platform of the main train station, kissing Erma goodbye and holding his infant son tight until he was forced to fully board the train, waving them off as he chugged off into an uncertain future, not knowing if he would ever see them again. 

 

Arriving at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on 28 January 1944 Delmer was officially inducted into the service of the United States Army. For the next several months he went on to complete his basic training, qualifying as a marksman and graduating as a trained rifleman fit for service in the infantry. Later in the summer he received orders for movement to the European theater and on 26 July embarked upon a transport bound for North Africa, landing on 12 August. A few weeks later he was moved to northern Italy and assigned to travel with a group of replacements bound for the French mainland to support the divisions advancing north towards Germany. Arriving in Southern France on 29 September, Delmer became part of the 2nd Replacement Depot before receiving his permanent assignment as a rifleman in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th “Texas” Infantry Division.

Delmer holding his son Steve in front of their farmhouse prior to his enlistment
Delmer holding his son Steve in front of their farmhouse prior to his enlistment

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Delmer working on the family farm
Delmer working on the family farm

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Delmer's photo in his 1929 high school yearbook.
Delmer's photo in his 1929 high school yearbook.

He is pictured with the school Glee Club and is positioned second from left on the first row.

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Delmer holding his son Steve in front of their farmhouse prior to his enlistment
Delmer holding his son Steve in front of their farmhouse prior to his enlistment

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The 36th Infantry Division was a battle-hardened and well-worn combat unit by the time Delmer joined their ranks. Having fought two grueling campaigns in Italy, participated in two amphibious assaults, and pushed the entire German 19th Army out of Southern France, the division was weary but aggressive in their pursuit of a foe backing closer and closer to his own borders. In the days prior to Delmer’s arrival the Germans finalized their tactical retreat and occupation of the Vosges Mountains in Central France. An ancient mountain range consisting of large rolling hills, extremely dense forests, and narrow valley passes, the Vosges was a naturally defensible obstacle that had never been conquered in modern history. While the German army retreated from the coast a series of penal and labor battalions had worked to construct countless fortifications throughout the mountain range in preparation for the inevitable defense. It was at the beginning of October 1944 that the 36th Infantry Division and the rest of the U.S. 7th Army began the long, difficult drive to push out these determined defenders bitterly emplaced at the doorstep of the Reich. 

 

On 9 October Delmer arrived with 54 other replacements to their new unit, I Company, while it was occupying the small Vosges town of Xamontarupt. The company, still depleted from their combat in Italy and France, welcomed the replacements warmly to supplement their numbers for the upcoming mountain campaign, reaching a total strength of around 160 infantrymen. The same day that Delmer joined I Company, while in reserve with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, the other units of the 142nd Infantry Regiment finalized a defensive line along the town of Le Creux, Laveline, and toward Le Tholy. On the night of 10-11 October, Delmer’s battalion moved to replace the tired GIs of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, his company specifically moving to positions from Le Creux to Rupt, finalizing their entrance onto the front the next day by creating a line around Rehaupal. These positions, first dug as round foxholes, became the indefinite home of Delmer’s company for the next two weeks as the 142nd was ordered to hold a solid defensive line while the other regiments of the division began coordinated attacks against other sectors of the enemy front. Remaining in the same spots for such a period, the men naturally began to improve their forest homes as harsh weather and artillery barrages took their toll. Muddy holes soon became dugouts, and dugouts became emplacements as wooden roofs and tree branches turned the line into a series of complex hidden fighting positions ready for any German assault. From 12-25 October the company stayed in its positions but maintained an active presence through daily patrolling and night raids. Intended to keep the enemy unsure of the regiment’s exact location or intentions, consistent patrols to root out German defenses or to attack some noted position not only held the Germans in place but gave Delmer and the dozens of other new replacements in I Company plenty of easily gained combat experience with minimal risk. Whether it was a six-man recon team or an entire platoon attacking part of the enemy line, these patrols provided important information to the company and gave the new men plenty of trigger time without fear of a wider German attack, building confidence and experience throughout the unit. It was also during this period that American supply lines finally reached the Vosges attackers, giving the troops the brand new m1943 field jackets, overcoats, blankets, sweaters, winter shoe packs, and much more as they faced the first bouts of winter weather and severe rain that would come to dominate the campaign. On 25 October the 2nd Battalion was moved from the line and replaced with a battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment which joined the 142nd as part of the newly designated “Stack Force'' intended to be led in an assault by the assistant division commanding general, Brigadier General Robert Stack. Despite the intention, the force was quickly dissolved at the end of the month when a battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, the infamous “lost battalion,” was cut off by German forces and rescued by the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, attached to the division and supported by the 143rd Infantry Regiment. This weeklong situation took the attention of all division commanders and thus the priority of the non-engaged units like Delmer's was to maintain supporting defensive positions north and south of the fighting at Bruyeres and Biffontaine. On 31 October, the day after the “lost battalion” was rescued, Delmer’s battalion was relieved from the line by men of the 143rd and sent to the division reserve for rest.

GIs of the 142nd IR marching through the snow-covered Les Rouges Eaux valley
GIs of the 142nd IR marching through the snow-covered Les Rouges Eaux valley

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GIs of the 142nd IR marching through the snow-covered Les Rouges Eaux valley
GIs of the 142nd IR marching through the snow-covered Les Rouges Eaux valley

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While Delmer and his comrades spent some time in Le Panges in reserve, the rest of the division made a successful advance towards Les Rouges Eaux, a critical valley which held the key towards breaking the Vosges line and opening the Alsatian Plain. On 4 November the 3rd Battalion moved from its reserve position to positions just east of Les Rouges Eaux to prepare for a renewed attack. The valley itself was a long narrow flat bed with open clearings ranging from 2-400 yards piercing a densely forested wilderness rising up the sharp hills on either side. Advances were planned along the forested treeline to avoid the open ground as rain, mist, and snow began to signal future difficulty. Early in the morning of 5 November the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 142nd jumped off in their attack, Delmer’s 3rd Battalion advancing rapidly while the 2nd was bogged down by strong enemy fire. By the end of the first day the 2nd was still struggling to make their objectives while Delmer and his comrades had taken three enemy hills and pushed back light opposition. The next morning contrasted this initial success, however, as they came under heavy mortar, artillery, and small arms fire while attempting to assault a heavily defended German position on Hill 652. 652 was a large knobbed hill overlooking the entire Le Rouges Eaux valley and thus was critical to ensure a successful advance. By nightfall the battalion took the ridge but the day after was spent holding it and a neighboring hill from determined German counterattacks. On 8 November Delmer’s battalion sent patrols into the first town, Chevry, where they met GIs of the 3rd Division’s 7th Infantry Regiment. Rather than continue the advance on their own, it was decided that some of the men would move to support the lagging 2nd Battalion. Early in the morning on 9 November, a platoon from I and K Company went south of the battalion to flank the enemy pressing against the 2nd Battalion line, successfully cutting around them and fighting a distraction until their ammo was exhausted and communications were cut. Unsure of their location, they spent a night in a railroad tunnel until a French civilian reconnected them with the unit. Thankfully, the maneuver had the intended results and the 2nd Battalion was able to break through the counterattack.

Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November
Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November

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Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November
Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November

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Corcieux today
Corcieux today

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Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November
Troops from Delmer's company advancing through the snow in early November

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On the afternoon of 10 November Delmer’s battalion was moved to regimental reserve and for the next five days attempted to rest amidst a torrential winter storm that blanketed the wet and muddied mountains with a thick coat of snow. Moved back up to the line on the 15th, the 3rd Battalion took over 1st Battalion positions near Corcieux in the early predawn hours. The town, still possibly held by Germans, was intended as the next possible target but required probing before a full attack could begin. Later that day, once darkness had fallen, the battalion sent out patrols to take the nearby village of Rennegoutte. Although resistance was light and signs of enemy withdrawal were apparent everywhere, the real sight for the T-Patchers was the deep orange glow lighting up the black sky as the town of Corcieux, only a mile and a half away, now sat ablaze. The following day found I Company attacking a small village just south of Rennegoutte, Mariemont. Although fairly tiny the settlement was occupied by an entire German company acting as a delaying force, making the GIs fight house to house throughout the day until they finally cleared the village with an additional 30 prisoners to their name. As they settled into the new position that night a patrol was sent out to explore Corcieux only to find it totally abandoned, destroyed, and heavily burned. At this point it seemed as though a large chunk of the German forces in the region were making a withdrawal, hastening the movement of the T-Patchers to prevent any sort of defensive build up they might have been planning. Despite finding the apparent retreat, the 142nd would be unable to act as they were withdrawn to division reserve on 18 November where they remained for five more days until they were alerted of potential emergency movement to support the 143rd Infantry in its attack. Little did they know, but this upcoming assault would earn the 3rd Battalion some notoriety amongst the division.

 

The call came on 23 November and the 3rd Battalion, waiting in Herplemont, started out on trucks at 0930. The road they were taking, however, was sighted in by enemy machine guns and mortars, thus delaying their support until some friendly tank destroyers and artillery fire could drive the enemy off. With their delay, the 3rd Battalion’s role was replaced by the 2nd Battalion and for the duration of the 24th, they were traveling alternate routes until they reached a supporting position at Verpelliere. The following day they continued the push eastward through Basse Mandray to Wisembach. It was here that the battalion split into two groups with the battalion commanding officer guiding Delmer’s company and K Company to exploit a forest trail that led out onto the main road connecting St Marie-aux-Mines and Fenarupt. The other group, led by the battalion executive officer, played the part of the diversion by leading armor and infantry up the main road in full enemy view. The target for the day was St Marie-aux-Mines, a larger city in the region that acted as a supply base for the German forces operating in the Vosges. It was a spot heavily connected with roads and essential to the German defense, thus a likely place for the enemy to bolster with reinforcements as the GIs approached. The flanking detachment had a difficult path as they attempted to circumnavigate the large mountains overlooking the city but after several hours of careful movement, they arrived on the northern outskirts of the city. To their great joy, the ploy had worked. While the diversionary force had been held off at a roadblock a good way south of the city, the two flanking companies found a German garrison enjoying their morning with utter disregard. As the attack began the GI found Germans strolling the streets, eating breakfast, riding bicycles, and casually driving vehicles as if there was no war going on at all. The attack was decisive as the T-Patchers drove through the city with ease, capturing over 150 Germans throughout the day with house fighting lasting sporadically until dark as they sought to clear out scattered pockets of disorganized resistance from those who evaded the initial assault. By the end of the day, the two companies had conquered the stronghold with a grand total of zero casualties, only seeing two minor wounds and light snowfall to mark their victory.

Men of I or K Company in St. Marie
Men of I or K Company in St. Marie

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26 November 1944 - A GI of the 3rd Battalion with a Russian-weapon found used by German forces defen
26 November 1944 - A GI of the 3rd Battalion with a Russian-weapon found used by German forces defen

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Konigsberg Castle today
Konigsberg Castle today

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Men of I or K Company in St. Marie
Men of I or K Company in St. Marie

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With St. Marie secure and the Les Rouges Eaux valley falling into Allied hands, Delmer and the 3rd Battalion prepared to do their part in the final Vosges breakout that would bring them into the Rhine River valley. On 26-27 November they trucked troward Fertrupt where an attack order on Liepvre was canceled upon arrival, instead, rerouting the battalion towards the edge of the woods and moving towards the town of Chatenois. Their immediate target came in the imposing fortress of Konigsberg Castle. Nestled atop a mountain overlooking the wider valley, the aged castle was known to host a German garrison defending the mouth of the valley. To best meet the enemy Delmer and the rest of his battalion dismounted from their trucks and began a steady but silent march through dense woods leading towards the castle. At 1715 the force met a few civilians at a small inn who warned them of German forces inside the fort leading the battalion commander to organize an evening surprise attack. The assault commenced at 1930 but the tactical maneuver proved unnecessary as the battalion found the castle entirely abandoned. With its thick stone walls, moats, and cannons, the T-Patchers were pleasantly surprised they did not have to spend the time trying to capture the stronghold. After a comfortable night inside the structure the battalion spent the next 24 hours sending out patrols and calling in artillery coordinates on German convoys and positions in the valley spotted from the castle walls. On the final day of the month I Company left their medieval residence to encounter a small German roadblock, which was overcome easily, before they regrouped with armor from the 753rd Tank Battalion organizing to attack Chatenois the next morning. 

 

The new month began with Delmer’s company leading a pre-dawn assault on Chatenois with a northern flanking attack supported by K Company. Despite the town’s size and proximity to the castle, resistance was weak and the companies were able to quickly rejoin the battalion for its fresh target: Selestat. Connected by several major roads and situated in the middle of the Rhine River Valley between Colmar and Strasbourg, Selestat stood as a critical supply and transportation hub for German troops operating across the front. Most importantly, Selestat supplied essential material needed to upkeep the thousands of German troops slowly being encircled in the “Colmar Pocket.” Given its strategic importance, the mission of taking the town fell two both the 36th and 103rd Infantry Divisions, both of whom were tasked to provide two battalions to attack and capture the heavily defended city. For the 103rd this fell to the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 409th Infantry Regiment, both tasked to attack from the north, and in the 36th, it was the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry, and 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry, who were ordered to move in from the south and west, respectively. 

An aerial photo taken of Selestat
An aerial photo taken of Selestat

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Routes of advance into Selestat
Routes of advance into Selestat

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The path taken by Delmer's company entering Selestat
The path taken by Delmer's company entering Selestat

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An aerial photo taken of Selestat
An aerial photo taken of Selestat

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Following the morning successes at Chatenois the 3rd Battalion began moving itself towards positions south of Selestat as they waited for their armor support to navigate around a heavy German roadblock. After a little while, the armor finally arrived and the battalion was split up for the attack. The primary assault team was spearheaded by Delmer’s company but was additionally supported with heavy weapons from M Company, two M4 Shermans of the 753rd Tank Battalion, two M10 tank destroyers of the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the battalion Headquarters Company. The advance started out towards Neubruch but became slowed by heavy shelling and small arms fire near Kintzheim. It disorganized the battle group but before long the Germans occupying the spot were routed and a six-man German patrol was captured. The group spent the night there awaiting orders to make the final advance. 

 

I Company and their support awoke early on the chilly morning of 2 December ready to commit themselves to assaulting the largest city yet encountered during this campaign. At 0630 the group, now supported by K Company but led by I, moved along the main road into the southern edge of the town. Flooding along the Ill River, which ran along the road, limited the path of the T-Patchers and narrowed the angle of their advance. Contact was made quickly and not long after enemy artillery attempted to break up the attack. The men were determined, however, and pushed onward until they encountered their first major obstacle. At a road junction near map-marker V782618 the column was met with strong resistance. Occupied by a German infantry detachment and an 88mm gun, a large roadblock began pouring fire at the group. First knocking off one of the Shermans and then a tank destroyer, it took one of the surviving pieces of armor rushing the roadblock and routing the 88’s gun crew before the infantry could make significant progress. It was at this moment that Delmer and his company decided to take advantage, rushing the barricade, pushing back the remaining German troops, dismantling the barrier, and opening the path into the city. 

 

This first difficulty was only the beginning, however, as the true battle began once moving through the city streets. Sending troops to take their assigned portion of the town, the 3rd Battalion began clearing the area east of the Northeast-Southwest road going through the town and all eastward locations of a central road circle towards the city center. As the men began clearing operations the battle quickly became fierce. The Germans were ordered to hold Selestat at all costs, leading to countless snipers, assault squads, machine gun positions, and even self-propelled guns to push back against the T-Patchers. It was brutal urban combat at its worst, houses were cleared one by one and streets had to be secured multiple times before one could be sure the enemy was truly gone. Some of the worst casualties came from enemy machine gun positions hidden in the small slat windows of townhouse basements. Peaking at only ankle level, they made perfect ambush defelades and wreaked havoc on unsuspecting infantry. While the infantry did have support from additional tanks and tank destroyers, the battle remained intense all throughout the day and numerous casualties were inflicted on all companies involved. 

A German roadblock overtaken by I Company in Selestat
A German roadblock overtaken by I Company in Selestat

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The 88mm gun taken out by Delmer's unit upon entering the city
The 88mm gun taken out by Delmer's unit upon entering the city

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Selestat today
Selestat today

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A German roadblock overtaken by I Company in Selestat
A German roadblock overtaken by I Company in Selestat

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It was during the fighting through the city streets that Delmer himself became a personal victim of the Nazi regime while fighting to destroy it. While going through their sector of the city Delmer was sent with a group to scout out an open clearing before the rest of his platoon made their way to secure it. While scouting the position the team came under fire from a German machine gun located in a building at the far end of the road. Pinned down and without any way to warn the rest of the platoon, Delmer’s squad leader called out for someone to take a message back to the company commander and advise him on the situation. It was at this moment that Delmer volunteered to take that risk. Grabbing his rifle with the message in his mind, he ran out from cover and began a mad dash back towards the company. Almost immediately the German machine gunner once again open fired, targeting the moving figure rather than those providing him covering fire. During the sprint a single round from the machine gun managed to hit its mark. As he was running sideways the round entered Delmer's right thigh, going entirely through it, then entered his left thigh from the inside, finally coming out below his left hip; a single bullet leaving him with four holes. The wound struck hard and shoved Delmer to the ground incapacitated and bleeding. Thankfully some of his comrades were able to drag him to cover and before long he was met by the medics of his company, stabilized, and immediately evacuated alongside other wounded for further medical treatment. Delmer’s fight in the Vosges had come to an end. 

 

The same day Delmer was moved to a 7th Army field hospital where they were able to further examine his wounds and realize just how lucky he truly was. Despite the visual severity of the wound, the bullet had managed to avoid all major arteries and lifelines, instead cutting a clear path through his thighs. After a series of sutures and stitches he was declared in good condition and taken to a bed for his recovery. While in the field hospital Delmer did have quite a bit of time, particularly seeing as he was immobile, so he attempted to spend his time fruitfully by writing letters home to his wife and son (although not mentioning the wound). On 22 December he was able to be removed from his field hospital and instead transferred to the 35th Station Hospital for the final stint of his healing. Here his situation was much the same, regaining his ability to walk, writing letters home, and generally trying to pass the time with his fellow wounded GIs. As New Year’s came and passed Delmer spent the first month and a half of 1945 recovering until he was finally given the all clear to receive a discharge from the hospital. Unlike similarly wounded men, however, his wounds did not earn him a ticket home or switch to a clerking job, rather, he was sent right back to his old company to once again do his duty as a rifleman.

Patients loaded into ambulances of the 35th Field Hospital
Patients loaded into ambulances of the 35th Field Hospital

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I Company combat medic T/4 Walter E. Bingham
I Company combat medic T/4 Walter E. Bingham

He was very likely one of the medics present in Selestat who helped Delmer when he was shot.

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V-mail sent home by Delmer while he was recuperating
V-mail sent home by Delmer while he was recuperating

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Patients loaded into ambulances of the 35th Field Hospital
Patients loaded into ambulances of the 35th Field Hospital

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A likely reason Delmer was sent back to I Company was that in the days preceding his return they had fought an extremely harrowing and difficult battle against German forces in Bischwiller. It was the roughest urban combat seen by the regiment since Selestat, which had raged on for two more weeks after Delmer’s wound, and the town had only just been secured the day before Delmer rejoined them on 14 February 1945. On the 15th the regiment was relieved by the 143rd and I Company was motored back to a reserve training area in Weitbruch where they were able to rest and perform some training to reinforce company cohesion. It wasn't until 26 February that the company was sent back into the line by relieving parts of the 101st Airborne Division to the south of the Moder just west of Haguenau. 

 

As February became March the other American armies to the North began having large success smashing German defenses and pushing the enemy back into Germany. It was at this point that the 7th Army decided to follow suit. For the first eleven days of March Delmer and his battalion retained their line along the Moder River. It was fairly quiet with regular patrols sent out and only occasionally receiving an enemy response. The evening of the 11th, however, found the entire 142nd Infantry returned to a rest area near Hochfelden to begin three days of intense training and planning for an army-wide assault intended to take place on the 15th. During this period Delmer was given a bit of free time, leading him and some of his buddies to take a donkey ride alongside the nearby mountaintops. Although seemingly silly amidst what they were about to go through, it was a fun moment for Delmer and his friends who knew that serious combat was coming. In addition, while undergoing preparation, Delmer underwent a visual change. I Company's commanding officer decided to do something a little different to distinguish the combat capability of his company by having each soldier paint a yellow lightning bolt over the T-Patch already painted on the sides of their helmets. Although it is unknown exactly why he wanted to do this, it did happen during this rest period and lasted only a few months before German civilians became scared that the company represented “American SS” and thus the regimental commander ordered the paint removed.

 

On the night of the 14th I Company, lightning bolt adorned helmets atop their heads, made their way to Niederaltdorf, a small village only three miles away from the Moder. It was a moonless, cloudless night, and the GIs were only guided by the faint starlight that pierced through the leafless trees. As troops from the battalion poured in throughout the night I Company was selected to lead the attack and around 0100 began laying two footbridges across the 25-foot river. Crossing over two men abreast, I Company became the first troops of the battalion to cross the river, forcing their way through a small stream to reach the edge of a wood known to be occupied by German forces. Once most of the battalion was across I Company began to push into the forest and not long after tripped the attention of the German forces, coming under fire from eight machine guns at the other end of the open ground they were crossing. At this moment the company commander noticed that although his men were starting to become pinned, his entire company was in the woods and thus more difficult to see. Rather than continue maneuvering tactically, as the element of surprise was lost, he went off script and ordered a mass charge towards the German line. According to post action reports, Delmer and the rest of I Company stormed forward with “terrifying and raucous cries” as they ran screaming like madmen through a swamp-like forest floor to reach the enemy as quickly as possible. Luckily, the wild charge had the intended effect and within minutes they rushed the German positions, beat off the remaining enemy, and cleared the entire German detachment from the forest so that the rest of the battalion could reorganize for their next advance. With the forest open, I Company and part of K Company started northward using the cover of the woods to attack the town of Mertzwiller before daylight, roughly around 0500. I Company had a tough time taking a blown bridge site in the north along the main road crossing the Zinzelle River but once they were able to push into the town they found the battle had only just begun. The Germans fought furiously throughout the entire day to push out the Americans as the rest of the 3rd Battalion began reinforcing the already engaged I and K Companies. The battalion was once again embattled in a raging urban struggle but managed to see reasonable success, even knocking out three STuG self-propelled guns during the first day of fighting. Firefights went on throughout the night and into the next morning but by the afternoon of 16 March, the Germans were mostly overrun after taking large casualties. 

I Company men at a crossroad outside Mertzwiller
I Company men at a crossroad outside Mertzwiller

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Delmer photographed with some buddies taking their first donkey ride while on a three day rest
Delmer photographed with some buddies taking their first donkey ride while on a three day rest

The picture was taken on 12 March 1945 while the battalion was waiting to begin their assault on the Moder River. Delmer is on the far right donkey and pictured with some off his buddies.

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An abandoned cart of Panzerfausts, likely at Mertzwiller
An abandoned cart of Panzerfausts, likely at Mertzwiller

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I Company men at a crossroad outside Mertzwiller
I Company men at a crossroad outside Mertzwiller

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The battalion held Mertzwiller for most of the 17th until they received orders to re-up the attack the next morning. Relieved by the 143rd Infantry at midnight, Delmer’s battalion mounted on their trucks and moved to the abandoned village of Gunstett where they proceeded on foot to their assembly points near Preuschdorf. In the early hours of the 19th, I Company led the attack into Preuschdorf which fell quickly, allowing them to maintain a push through four more towns as they knocked through occasional enemy roadblocks and delaying forces. Around 2200 the company encountered a stronger roadblock which they had to physically dismantle so that the attached armor could go through. An hour later patrols from the battalion moved towards Wissembourg, drawing enemy machine and self-propelled gunfire. Rather than continue on this path the 3rd Battalion was moved to Schweigen in the morning, receiving new orders to take the Grasberg Height. The height was a large hill protruding high above the land and encircled by deep valleys. Its dominating position over the area made it a natural strongpoint and thus the regiment ordered it be taken from the Germans at all costs. Rather than risk a frontal assault, it was decided that I Company would once again lead the battalion in a flanking maneuver around the large mass. The soldiers marched through the deep valley at the base of the height, crossing through heavy forests and intentionally felled trees before they reached the draw around noon. A single platoon from I Company was sent ahead to scout the crest but accidentally made contact with the primary enemy force at the very top of the hill. After a brief firefight that killed their platoon leader the company was driven off but not before the rest of the battalion rushed into action, surprising many Germans sitting idly in their trenches. For such an entrenched position, the battle was quick and by late afternoon the height was securely in the hands of the battalion. The enemy attempted several counterattacks throughout the rest of the day to no avail. As the German forces backed down from the height, the 21st was spent trying to expand the battalion line towards the nearby town of Dorrenbach, however, low ammunition and the threat of counterattack inevitably kept most of the unit on the hill. On 23 March the battalion linked up with the 3rd Battalion of the 143rd Infantry in an attempt to clear a motor route into Dorrenbach, moving to Rulzheim the day after. By this point the men were weary, having broken through the Siegfried Line and maintained a rapid pursuit of the retreating German forces. Despite this, it wasn’t until 25 March that the regiment was finally given the chance to rest when they were ordered to the division reserve at Ottersheim where they finished out the month. Although only in the attack for two weeks, March was a hectic and combat-filled period for Delmer and his comrades as they drove into German territory hoping to finally break the defensive line. Little did they know at the time, but this would be the final major combat action of their company and battalion.

Route of attack through the Siegfried Line; Grasberg Height at top
Route of attack through the Siegfried Line; Grasberg Height at top

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3rd Battalion men advancing up through pillboxes on Grasberg Height
3rd Battalion men advancing up through pillboxes on Grasberg Height

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Grasberg Height today
Grasberg Height today

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Route of attack through the Siegfried Line; Grasberg Height at top
Route of attack through the Siegfried Line; Grasberg Height at top

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The month of April found the 142nd assigned a wholly new and undetermined task: supporting a military government. Although the 36th Division did push on further into the German heartland, the 142nd Infantry was delegated to oversee the establishment of a new military government in the conquered territories as well as secure supply routes, an uncertain civilian population, and abandoned enemy armaments. Operating out of Kaiserslautern, the various companies of the regiment enforced checkpoints, curfews, and the establishment of displaced person camps all throughout the region. The displaced persons, in particular, caused most of the problems faced by the regiment as they, often forcibly imported slave laborers, attempted to leave and go home immediately upon liberation or act in retribution against local Germans. For the duration of the month, the regiment spent most of its time policing these persons and the German populace. Delmer and I Company moved around the area working in places like Gofdamheim, Langmeil, Weidenthal, and Kircheim unter Teck. On 22 April the 142nd was replaced by the 28th Infantry Division and on the 25th moved to Kunzelsau to renew combat operations. The 3rd Battalion got its start on the 26th when it was ordered to move by truck to a bivouac area in Aalen alongside the 132nd Field Artillery Battalion. To their surprise, the battalion learned that all the heavy trucks attached to the regiment had been rerouted, so the entire battalion was instead moved by a long convoy of jeeps and quarter-ton trailers. Now deep in the heart of Germany, Delmer and his comrades found themselves trekking through a devastated and shocked Germany. Towns once considered the center of the Reich and the farthest from any armed conflict saw T-Patchers marching through their streets, white flags replacing those adorned with the swastika. Resistance was light during the period as German forces crumbled around them, taking in numerous prisoners every day. I Company experienced all these things as it marched through its two objectives at Lamerdingen and Untigling, at Kleinweiler, before they were stopped by a bridge blown in desperation by fleeing Germans.

I Company moving through Germany
I Company moving through Germany

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I Company moving through Germany
I Company moving through Germany

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An I Company formation
An I Company formation

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I Company moving through Germany
I Company moving through Germany

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As the war entered its final week the 3rd Battalion found itself at the base of the Bavarian Alps, coming across numerous delaying roadblocks which only slowed down their advance, but did not stop them. On 4 May the battalion relieved elements of the 12th Armored Division in Kufstein and only a day later saw its final combat of the war when a small German force put up resistance at a fork just south of the town. On 6 May, while the battalion was moving through Fugen, it received orders to hold fire as word came regarding a mass surrender of all German forces in the area. After a slight hold, I Company made its last movement on the 8th by trucking to the Salzbach Valley when the war-weary and battle-hardened T-Patchers received word that at long last the war in Europe had come to a close. The Nazi war machine had fallen, its government collapsed, and any notions of Nazi victory disintegrated. The war was over.

 

Delmer, now 32, had seen bitter battles for nearly eight months as he fought his way through Europe with the 36th Infantry Division. Now, in occupation, he was finally given a chance to relax. The month of June saw the 36th moving around Bavaria performing much of the same governing duties that the 142nd had mastered back in April, doing some light training, but also letting the men enjoy some serious rest after the war they had just survived. Sporting leagues were established, leaves were given, and hard won peace was enjoyed. Delmer himself made a brief visit to the German capital in Berlin where he had a bracelet custom engraved with his sweet Erma’s name, a gift he intended to give her upon his return home. He also purchased numerous pieces of 36th memorabilia to remind him of his service with the division like bracelets, a ring, custom-made patches, finely made insignia to adorn his dress uniform, and more. The peak of his occupation spending, however, came in a painting he had done of himself in uniform by a German artist living in one of the small villages his company was occupying. On 13 July Delmer was sadly forced to leave his brothers in I Company, moving to the regiment’s Anti-Tank Company, as transfers took place to reorganize men going home and moving to other divisions. With his new unit he spent a few weeks in Wendlingen before moving through various tiny villages dotting the region that had yet to be fully occupied by the Allies. In November Delmer transferred once again, this time to fill the 36th Signal Company with 168 other transfers from the 142nd Infantry. It was not long after, though, that he finally earned enough points to return home. Loading onboard the USS Admiral William L. Capps on 5 December, Delmer landed in Virginia on the 15th, traveling to Camp Patrick Henry where he was officially deactivated and sent to his regional discharge center, in this case, Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Officially discharged from service in the United States Army on 20 December 1945, Delmer took the first train back home and arrived just in time for Christmas.

A painting done of Delmer by a local German artist while in occupation
A painting done of Delmer by a local German artist while in occupation

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A photograph taken of Delmer in Germany
A photograph taken of Delmer in Germany

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Delmer's obituary
Delmer's obituary

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A painting done of Delmer by a local German artist while in occupation
A painting done of Delmer by a local German artist while in occupation

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Delmer, a seasoned veteran, physically wounded and deeply impacted by the things he saw in Europe, was mostly quiet about his wartime experiences and attempted to quickly reintegrate himself back into civilian life. Although drawing disability from his wounds received in action, he nevertheless set out to build his own life for himself and his family. Soon after his return he took his wife and son and settled on his own homestead in Williamston, Michigan where he got a permanent job working for the Sealtest Dairy as a delivery driver. His first deliveries were made using a horse and wagon as he bumbled along the rural streets delivering milk and cheese to local families but after a few years, he was given his own milk truck to make things much easier. In 1952 Delmer and his wife decided to expand their family by taking in an orphan, Ronnie, whom they raised as their son alongside the then eight-year-old Steve. For the next several years the family prospered as the boys grew and Delmer became a solid performer with the dairy. In the late 50s, however, his job did change when the milk routes were shifted to begin hitting commercial businesses like supermarkets and groceries. Unsure if he could maintain his same pace, Delmer decided to become a regular laborer in the dairy facility where he remained for the duration of his career. Life was good for a while as Delmer’s sons found their own paths, with Steve followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the army in 1960, as the family became more involved in their church and community. All was well until tragedy struck when his beloved wife Erma passed away the same year following a long battle with sugar diabetes. It was devastating to the family, but Delmer's strength pushed them through. A few years later Delmer did retire from the dairy and remarried, although his new wife and family was much more distant and difficult with his sons. In February of 1975, however, Delmer finally rejoined his Erma, passing away at the age of 61.