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Published: August 5th 2019
Strasbourg and Colmar
Several years ago Tom and I went to Normandy to see the beaches on which D-Day was fought. I remember seeing Omaha Beach, Pont du Hoc and the American Cemetery and was duly thankful for all who participated in this incredibly well orchestrated invasion. This was the year I began to really see what it took for the world to come together to defeat Hitler.
A few years later when planning a return trip to France Tom wanted to include Strasbourg as one of our stops because he knew that his Father had walked the streets of Strasbourg as the 3rd Division continued to push the German army back over the Rhine to Germany. We walked the streets of Strasbourg knowing we were stepping where he stepped and thought that was pretty cool.
Tom had told me a few times before that his Father was at Anzio Beach in Italy during the war and his Division continued to France, landing in St.Tropez then pushing Northeast for months until they were in Strasbourg towards the end of the war.
Fast forward (or getting back to our current trip) Our boat docked in
Strasbourg and we took a guided tour to get a better understanding of some of the areas we had walked through on our previous trip. We didn't have a lot of time there but it was nice to see Strasbourg again.
John and Diana told us that they were going to join a guided tour to a WWII museum rather than visit Colmar when we got to our next stop at Breisach. Tom knowing his Father had traveled through this area thought it would be nice if we joined the tour.
This particular guide was so knowledgeable and so well prepared, as we boarded the bus we were given an information booklet that she put together herself with detailed maps of specific battles, where they were fought and pictures of some of the American's that performed heroic deeds during this campaign. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, Dasha our guide began what was to be probably the most enjoyable and memorable tour of our trip.
"Please open your books to page 3." said Dasha. We started flipping through the booklet and there staring us in the face was the emblem of the 3rd Division,
Tom's Father's Division.
Dasha said, "we are going to travel to the museum in Turckheim." Then to the battlefield where "your boys fought to secure what is known as the Colmar Pocket." I think my jaw dropped to the floor. I really didn't understand that this guided tour was specific to Tom's Father's Division.
The 3rd Division of the army after battling in Anzio Italy and Northern Africa were then sent to France after D-Day. The war wasn't over immediately following the D-Day landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, it was merely the beginning of the end for the Germans but they were most definitely still fighting hard to keep control in France. All I personally was sure of before this tour was that the war ended at some point in 1945. How many reading this have heard of the Colmar Pocket Campaign??
Dasha pointed out that the D-Day invasion was so widely publicized most of us didn't learn anything more and thought the war just ended shortly thereafter. She went on to tell us that the Colmar Pocket Campaign was every bit as crucial as the D-Day Invasion. The battle to free Europe after Anzio
and North Africa continued as the 3rd Division arrived in the South of France and kept fighting while pushing the Germans North and East towards Germany. They were fighting battle after battle eventually reaching what is known as the Colmar pocket. It was as the last strong hold of the German Army in France. The 3rd Division had already fought and marched hundreds of miles through France reaching Colmar near Strasbourg in what was to be the coldest Winter on record for France. Exhausted, freezing, and fighting without supplies (the push North East put them ahead of their supplies, food, ammunition and medical aide) they marched on battling their way toward the German border to liberate all of France. When they finally crossed the Rhine they fought the German Army on their own soil ending WWII on September 2, 1945.
Dasha brought us to the top of Mount Sigolsheim and Hill 616 and at the foot of the Vogues Mountain where she began to tell us the complete story of the 3rd division in what was a high loss of life battle campaign. She knew how many were in a patrol as she pointed and directed our eyes to
a small clump of forest, referring to the U.S. army as "your boys" she told each story in incredible detail. "Right here your boys pushed South then East" Dasha knew the army successes and when the troops were surprised by the German army and cut down. She talked about how cold it was that when Audie Murphy (the most highly decorated soldier in WWII) lifted his head off the ground a small patch of scalp had adhered to the frozen ground. She knew the names of some of the heroes of the campaign and brought us exactly to points of their specific heroic act. Here the Germans were firing machines guns towards your boys who were waiting for the heavy artillery to arrive but they weren't sure where to find the troop so one of the men ran crazily across the field of fire, was hit several times but got to where he could point out the direction before he died. At another spot someone managed to get to the camp unharmed but needed to sit on the outside of an american tank so he could see where to send the heavy guns. Story after story was told in amazing detail, everyone was absolutely riveted.
She then brought us to the town of Ostheim which was the 1st town in the Colmar Pocket to be liberated by the 3rd Division and lastly to a French Memorial to Audie Murphy. It was at the edge of a forest 300 yards from the town of Holtzwihr which was still under German control. The 3rd Division was sneaking up on this town to take it back and 2 tanks were brought in. One of the tanks fell into a ditch right at the edge of the forest, the other was on fire due to the Germans scoring a direct hit on it before our boys could begin their assault. 80% of the company was gone quickly and they needed to keep the Germans from advancing into the forest and taking out the heavy artillery still coming. The records show that Audie Murphy ordered his men to retreat back into the forest to hook up with the advancing US, he jumped on top of the tank that was on fire and began spraying the the open field between the forest edge and the village. This went on for an hour and he only stopped when he ran out of ammunition. During his one man attack he had radio communication with the commander and was asked "how close are the German's actually to you?" to which he replied, "Well they're really close, shall I put them on the phone?"
Dasha made the entire campaign come alive, now we know we have truly walked in Richard B. Stone's shoes as he and his Signal Corps, the medics, and the infantry men, all with the 3rd Division pushed the German's out of France, back into Germany.
We were so very fortunate to have had Dasha for our guide and it was truly amazing to stand on that hill as she told the story of the Colmar Pocket Campaign.
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