Heroes: the Army
"...its members were to have demolition experience in the making of satchel charges, pole charges, use of bangalore torpedoes and beehive charges employed in the destruction of wire entanglements, pill boxes and other fortified positions..."
Rutland D. Beard, Jr.
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. E., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Chevy Chase, MD
The Last KIA
The Assault - Demolition - Mine Platoon - 407th
by Rutland Beard, Jr. - 407 E
In September, 1944, shortly after arriving in Normandy, a meeting was scheduled to recruit volunteers for an unnamed platoon authorized by higher authority This platoon would be in addition to the Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) of the normal infantry regiment. There was already an anti-tank mine platoon which was TO&E and part of the Anti-Tank Company organic to the 407th Infantry Regiment.
The volunteer platoon had a mine clearing and laying capability and knowledge of pressure release and trip booby traps. In addition, its members were to have demolition experience in the making of satchel charges, pole charges, use of bangalore torpedoes and beehive charges employed in the destruction of wire entanglements, pill boxes and other fortified positions.
The concept for the employment of the platoon was the combination of mine clearing/laying missions and the attachment of squads to the assault rifle companies in the attack. Their performance would assist in destroying any progress-impeding fortifications and wire entanglements encountered.
I was a BAR man in Co. E, 407th but had received excellent training in mines, booby traps and demolitions in the Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Other personnel in the 407th had also received similar training. Many of us had pursued the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) route. After the demise of the ASTP, we were assigned to the one-o-deuce.
Although we had come from different companies, we had to be carried by a single unit for administrative purposes, so we, a bastard unit, were attached to the Anti-tank Company of the 407th. We actually left our parent units in October or early November. From E Co., 407th came Dick East, Emit Ballen, Alee Alenskis, Charlie Krause, Chris Lupia and myself; from Co. A, 407th Jim Forsyth joined us.
Other volunteers filled the platoon, making three full squads. Our platoon leader was Lt. Bordon T. Wright and our platoon sergeant was T/Sgt. Joseph Piccatiello from the Anti-tank Company. Through the remainder of combat we performed our primary mission as well as assisting in the evacuation of the dead and the escorting of German POWs to Military Police pick up points.
We spent the last few days of the war near Tangermunde on the Elbe River, waiting for the Russians to link up with our forces. By chance our platoon was in the E Co., 407th sector on the banks of the Elbe on May 7 and 8. During those two days we received numerous German POWs and were the recipients of Russian indirect mortar and artillery fire on the west side of the river. As the Soviet infantry approached the village on the east bank, their small arms fire came into our sector. Although it was sporadic fire, it was still hazardous.
I dived into a foxhole and landed on top of Lt. Joe Steele, the Co. E. Executive Officer. We both agreed it was too late in the war to be hit. Unfortunately, Sgt. Piccatiello was hit in the stomach as he was trying to run over the berm which bordered the river. He was probably the last man in the 102nd to die in the war and perhaps the only man killed by Russian small arms fire. The next day was VE-Day.
During the last few days of the war, thousands of German officers and men were driven into the 102nd sector. One of these officers was Colonel Ernst Shultes, a German Corps chief of Staff who had married an American woman. Because of his relationship to the U.S., he had been ordered to serve on the Eastern front against the Russians.
After his capture and during his interrogation by General Keating, it was revealed that he had been in the same class at the German War College that General Wedemeyer, a U.S. student exchange officer, had attended before the war.
Subsequently, after serving a short time as a POW, Shultes came to the U.S. and was assigned to the Pentagon as a Soviet Army Order of Battle Specialist. He resided in Alexandria, Virginia, where he became a close friend of General Keating. He was my intelligence specialist on my last tour of duty before I retired from the U.S. Army in 1978.
----- Rutland Beard,Jr.
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
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The above story, "The Last KIA", by Rutland Beard, Jr., 407th, Co. E., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 52, No. 1, Oct/Dec., pp. 11.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 7 October 2004.
Story added to website on 12 October 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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