Tech/5 Paul L. Steele
A/G Company, 253rd Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division
Paul Leroy Steele originally lived with his brother and parents in his home of Oakland, California. At a young age, however, tragedy struck and both the boys were left orphaned and in the care of the US foster system. In a change of scenery, the two ended up transferring to an orphanage in Flint, Michigan where they grew up amongst many other young ones who had suffered the same isolating fate. Thankfully Paul was adopted in the late 1930s and moved in with his new family in the small township of Waterford where he lived until the war. In 1943 he was drafted into the Army and sent to join the newly created 63rd Infantry Division at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi.
Once with the division, Paul received his assignment as a rifleman with A Company of the 253rd Infantry Regiment. The division spent about a year in training before the army finally sent them overseas as a replacement division in December of 1944. Interestingly, the regiments of the division first fought independently attached to more veteran units, for Paul and the 253rd it was the 44th ID, before finally coming together as a cohesive fighting unit in February of 1945. The division quickly got its act together and became a notable fighting force, crossing the Saar river in February and smashing through the Siegfried line the next month. Between the dates of the 4-12 April, however, the 253rd IR met its match in the form of the German 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division. Together with the first battalion of the 398th IR, 100th ID the two units engaged in a pitched battle over the towns of Buchof and Stein am Kocher. The objective was to capture the Kocher River and establish a bridgehead for a wider crossing, however, the 17th SS was given strict orders to hold the ground by any means possible. With machine gun and mortar nests behind every hill and treeline, the 253rd had it rough and many of the infantry companies became separated in the struggle. Paul and A Company found themselves in the northern part of the area stuck with C Company separated from the rest of the battalion by SS troops. A Company eventually made it right outside the furthest objective, the town of Kressbach, before having to hunker down and prepare for a German counterattack. The assault came on April 6th and the fight was furious. With SS armor, artillery, and panzergrenadiers leading the attack on the American troops, A Company had no choice but to hold as long as they could before a hasty retreat was beaten. In the eight hours of hard fighting over open terrain near the town, A Company lost its commanding officer and the majority of its enlisted men, leaving only Paul and 22 other riflemen standing uninjured. The survivors were rallied by a forward observer attached to the company, Lt James Robinson, and attempted a final charge against the objective which they miraculously managed to capture before artillery shrapnel hit Robinson in the throat and left him mortally wounded. Robinson continued to lead Paul and the others until he could no longer speak, making sure the objective was secure and the survivors were all right before he began a two-mile walk back to an aid station where he died of his wounds. For his actions in leading the survivors of A Company, Lieutenant Robinson was awarded our nation’s highest honor.
Paul appears to have been one of the small numbers of men from the company still in the company to not get hit that entire day and continued with the unit until the end of the war helping to pave the infamous trail of “blood and fire” into the German heartland which ended at the city of Landsberg. He served a little bit of time during occupation but was able to go home and settle in Orchard Lake, Michigan. He worked many years as a telephone company repairman before moving to Florida where he passed away in 1999.