Tech/5 Rudolph Muck Jr.
Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment
Rudolph Muck Jr. was raised in the bustling New Jersey city of Paterson in Passaic County. Bordering the bulk of New York City, Muck’s childhood was spent within a fairly well-to-do suburban neighborhood. His father, a prominent hatmaker, was born in Austria but moved to the United States in 1912 to start a new life for himself. It was here that he met his wife, Mary, with whom he would have Rudolph and his sister. Unfortunately, family life was not that simple. In 1934 Muck’s father found his mother strolling with a baby that was not his own, eventually learning that she had been having an affair with another man with whom she had another child. Only 15 years old at the time, Muck and his family spent nearly a year in a trial that ended in divorce. With him and his sister moving in permanently with their father, the ordeal was obviously an extremely distressing one for the young Muck and it became quite a scandal in the small community. Regardless of his family situation, he continued on in his studies and graduated from high school in 1938 where he continued on to get a job in the nearby Curtiss-Wright airplane engine factory. The plant was a major source of work in Paterson, going on to produce major wartime industry for heavy bombers, however, Muck left the plant in December of 1942 when his time for civilian life ran out and he was called up for military service.
After completing his basic training in the spring of 1943 Muck was sent to his primary combat unit, the 36th Infantry Division, with whom he traveled overseas to North Africa. While the division was training there he received his combat position as an enlisted member of the Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment. As one of the enlisted members Muck likely served with communications for the battalion, helping to run equipment or run himself to deliver orders to the various companies within his unit. It was not long before the division got its chance for action and on 9 September 1943 Muck landed alongside the 142nd on the northern section of the 36th landing zone near Paestum. The battle for the beach was ferocious as German artillery, machine gun positions, and armor all attempted to drive the Texans back into the sea. Thankfully Muck and his battalion managed to pull through, beginning a long drive through Italy which would see them at some of the war’s harshest battles.
The next few months were a mixed bag for Muck and the 36th, getting hit heavily during the initial landings before a month of rest that ended in their return to the frontline with a new objective: The Winter Line. Set up across the Italian peninsula to hold the allied forces south of Rome, the 5th Army sent its divisions time and time again to forge small gains in its many heavily defended regions. For Muck and the 36th, their big objective was to seize the ancient town of San Pietro and the two massive mountains overlooking that sector of the line, Mount Sammucro, and Mount Lungo. The battle launched in early December as the 36th and its many attached units, such as the 1st Italian Motorized Group and the First Special Service Force (FSSF), began an advance through the wintry Italian mountains to push the Germans out of their heavily fortified positions. Muck and the 142nd were specifically tasked to take Mt Lungo which dominated the southern part of the operation area. The assault began on 9 December with a push from Mount La Difensa towards the smaller villages dotting the landscape. Moving slowly through the mountainous terrain put a strain on the regiment logistically, physically, and mentally, however, ample artillery support and manpower allowed the men to push onward. On 11 December the Germans sent a large aerial assault in which nearly thirty Luftwaffe planes strafed and bombed the regimental sector in an attempt to break up the advance. Nonetheless, however, the GI’s pushed on. Muck’s battalion made an especially critical headway in the advance towards the town of Giacomo which it eventually captured with minimal resistance in the morning hours of 12 December. It was amidst the fortune of his battalion that day that Muck’s own luck, unfortunately, ran out. During the later hours in the evening Muck was performing his duty, likely as a runner, when a segment of the battalion line was heavily bombarded by German artillery which had sighted in on the Italian 1st Motorized Group next to them. Amidst the chaos a shell landed behind Muck, spattering his back with shrapnel and penetrating his knee. His wounds proved extremely serious but medics were able to reach and stabilize him in time before sending him off to more intensive care with the army hospital system.
Officially earning the Purple Heart, Muck spent the next three months recovering at hospitals in theater regaining his ability to walk and function before he was strong enough to return to active duty on 6 February 1944. At this point, the 142nd was the strongest unit of the division as the 141st and 143rd had been devastated only weeks prior by the disaster at the Rapido River. Bearing the brunt of the division’s actions, Muck was thrown back into the saddle at full speed. Throughout the rest of the Italian campaign, Muck has some better luck, making it through Velletri, the capture of Rome, and the campaign’s final battles before he and the 142nd once again made another amphibious assault, this time in Southern France. This campaign proved much faster-paced than the battles Muck saw in Italy as the German 12th Army hastily retreated from the coast towards the inner territory of occupied France. The campaign was not without its fights, however, and during an unknown engagement in September 1944, Muck was once again hit by artillery fire. Although his wounds were much less serious than before, only getting some shrapnel in his thighs, he was still out of action for nearly two months. His return to action left him dropped into the raging battle of the Vosges mountains where the 142nd saw some of its heaviest fighting against veteran German forces heavily entrenched in the wooded hills of the region. Muck and his battalion made their way through, however, and continued their successful drive against the Germans in battles like Strasbourg, Hagenau, Oberhoffen, the Moder, through the Siegfried line, and into the heart of Germany itself. By the end of the war Muck had earned five campaign stars, two amphibious arrowheads, and an impressive two Purple Hearts.
Following the conclusion of hostilities, he stayed with the 36th for about a month before he, as a “high-pointer” was transferred to the 253rd Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Division with whom he was slated to go home early. He did, arriving back in New York in October of 1945 before getting discharged from service at Fort Dix. From a New Jersey airplane engine maker to a seasoned, twice-wounded combat veteran of the Mediterranean and European theater, Muck’s wartime experience proves a typical reminder of the American citizen-soldier.