Tribute to Fallen Rangers

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
  Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
  Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
  Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
  And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
  Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
  The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
                                                      Wilfred Owen

DDay and the breaching of Hitler's Atlantic Wall was just the beginning of a long tedious drawn out campaign to free Europe from Nazi terror and repression. From Normandy, the Rangers would go on to Brittany, participating in the Battle of Brest. At the end of September 1944, the Rangers boarded rail cars bound for Arlon, Belgium. 2nd Rangers were trucked from Belgium to Esch, Luxembourg. Then from Esch to the vicinity of Bearen, Belgium. And finally into Germany itself.

In the autumn of 1944, the Allied advance had faltered. The weather that fall was nothing short of miserable - frigid rain and snow falling relentlessly, creating thick mud flows that reached a man's knees and halted tanks. Allied troops camped along the German border were worn down by a constant barrage of artillery and mortar fire. Casualties were high and a steady stream of replacements flowed in to swell the dwindling companies. Among the thousands of faceless, unknown replacements was a 23 year old from Illinois named Leroy Rogers.

Leroy was sent to the 2nd Rangers. The family that he had left behind never saw him again: in November 1944, Leroy Rogers was killed in action. And his family back in Illinois tried for over 50 years to learn how and where Leroy had died, but always came up short.

Leroy's nephew, Gary Underwood, began searching the Internet for anyone who might have information about his uncle. In July 1999, I received the following e-mail from Gary:

I had a uncle who was a Ranger in 2nd Battalion Company D. His name was Leroy Rogers. He was from Illinois. From What I am told he was involved in the assault on Point Du Hoc, but later died on 18, November 1944 We do not know how or where. I would like to know more but, I am unsure where to look. Any Information, or direction would be appreciated. We recently received a picture of his headstone, from France.

Inquiries crisscrossed the Internet. Gary's forays into cyberspace led to me and Ranger Morris Webb. Morris sent queries down the line to fellow Rangers of D Company. A company history was unearthed, then a photograph, resurrecting memories long buried. Slowly these fortuitous connections led to the unraveling of a 55 year old mystery.

E-mail from Morris Webb, 2nd Bn Rangers, Company D to Vivian Corbin:
....... This is an interesting story. For 55 years [Gary Underwood] and his mother didn't know exactly how his Uncle had died and did not know where he was buried. All they knew for sure was that he was in the 2nd Ranger Battalion and they were told by the Uncle that he was in D Company. I was in D Company of the 2nd Ranger Bn. so my friend and fellow Ranger passed the problem on to me. I went through all the material I had and even called the former Company Clerk who lives in Las Vegas and was noted for his memory, down to rattling off ones serial number. But even he could not make a positive I.D. of this Ranger so I had to get on the line and tell this young man that we couldn't place him in D Company. End of story!

Later I had the D Company book out, "D for DOG" written by Al Baer, Jr. from Memphis, TN, I was in the section about Vossenack, Germany when VOILA! There is the lost relative's name. I then had immediate and complete recall! After 55 years, clear as a crystal.

The young soldier was in my section of the 2nd Platoon. He and his best friend was on guard duty inside this burned out house when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel from a German mortar. I and another Sgt. ran out to see about them. The friend was knocked out but Rogers was hit in the head. We didn't know how bad he was but he needed to get to the aid station, about half a mile away over bombed out muddy road.

The other Sgt. said I'll see if there is a jeep outside. He was gone only a few minutes and he was back with this jeep. We took Rogers and laid him on the hood of the jeep and I spreadeagled on top of him and we left on a very hazardous drive to the aide station. Fortunately we got there in one piece. We got Rogers inside and the Dr. looked him over and turned to us and said that he should have been killed outright; he didn't know what hit him and, in fact, expired in very short order afterwards.

So I got back on the PC and sent this young man the "rest of the story" about his Uncle. Naturally I felt badly about my loss of memory about the event and Rogers was a recent replacement so I had a poor excuse for my lack of memory. Needless to say, the Nephew and his mother were greatly relieved to finally learn the rest of the story. A Ranger in the 1st Platoon remembered the young man and in fact had a photo of his grave in the cemetery that Rogers was buried in.....
     Morris N. Webb, Original member of the 2nd Bn from Camp Forrest, TN to Czechoslovakia to disbanding in VA. I was the Platoon Sgt. of the second platoon from just after the Hill 400 battle to the disbanding.

E-mail from Vivian Corbin to Morris Webb:

Dear Mr. Webb,
I was very moved by your story of Leroy Rogers. This is really what had so moved me when I first looked upon the endless rows of gravestones in the American cemetery above Omaha Beach -- the thousands of lives snuffed out so prematurely - the boys who never had the chance to become men, husbands, and fathers -- and grandfathers. They should have played touch football with their sons and coached their daughters' soccer team. They should have watched in despair as their sons sprouted beards, stringy long hair and hippie beads in the 60's and marveled when their daughters became investment bankers and doctors in the 70's.

They should have cheered when the Berlin Wall fell, gazed upon the stars with Columbia, and muddled through PC operating instructions. And then there are the families who lost a son, a brother or a father who still grieve their loss half a century later. By recalling the event that led to Leroy Rogers' death, you put flesh on a name for those of us who never knew him. It was so kind of you to try to find him for his family. What a wonderful gift! Tonight there is in heaven a star with Leroy Rogers' name. It's hard to imagine not knowing how your loved one died or where.....
     Vivian Corbin

The story of the Underwoods' quest did not end here. Ten years earlier, in 1989, during the 45th Anniversary of D-Day, Morris' friend and fellow Ranger Bud Potratz, made a pilgrimage to the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium to pay homage to fallen comrades who lost their lives in the 1st Army's drive through northern France into Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany, a bitter campaign which began in September 1944 and continued throughout the winter. In that stone silent world of painful memories, Bud stood next to Leroy's grave, a gesture immortalized in a photograph. Now, a decade later, after learning of Gary's search for his uncle, Morris rung up his old friend. Bud found the photograph and sent it to Gary, along with a letter:

I was with the 1st Platoon of D company. Your uncle was with the 2nd Platoon (same as Morris Webb). I cannot remember what your uncle looked like anymore. Too many years. ....The snapshot was taken in June of 1989. .......We were not born old but can remember when we were young at the age of nineteen and fighting for our lives. The experience of the war never leaves one. The memories are constant and now that we are retired the experiences are etched in our hearts and minds forever. A day does not go by without memories of some hellish event where we lost a comrade and a voice hushed in a split second. A face in the crowd, or an odor in the air or a voice that resembles some buddy triggers memories.

Leroy Rogers met his end in what Bud Potratz calls "that gruesome Death Factory of the Hurtgen Forest", in a town called Vossenack. He recalls:

Roy bought it at Vossenack, Germany. It was around Thanksgiving Day. We went up on the line at night to help out a Battalion of the 8th Division. The 8th had been hit very hard in several weeks of fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. We took over dug in positions of the 8th (don't recall the Company or Regiment anymore. We took cover in the cellars of some of the burned out homes. Our Assault Sections (squads in the Infantry) took over the foxholes at night and the mortar Section and some of the lst section of our lst Platoon took over in the day time. The 2d Platoon (Roy's platoon) were in house nearby. I am sure their Platoon did the same as our Platoon. I think Roy was in the assault section as I heard from Moe Webb that Roy got hit at night. He and his friend Harold Wisor, were dug together and a shell came in on them. Roy took the greatest impact. Wisor lived thru the hit without a wound and fought with us thru to the end of the War.

In the company history, Harold Wisor (now deceased) told of that terrible night:

"Rogers was my best buddy, in case you've forgotten, ...... We were on guard together that night outside the platoon C.P. Everything had been pretty quiet, and then we heard one coming in, and we could tell it was going to be close. You know that "whoosh" the close ones make just before they hit. We both ducked, and the shell came through what was left of the wall. I was OK - a little concussion, maybe, but nothing to worry about. Sergeant Webb, and Hoffman, and somebody else came running out of the CP to find out if we were all right. Rogers was lying on the ground, and we could see that he was hit pretty bad. The shrapnel had gone through his helmet in a couple of places, and his head looked all torn up. Somebody made me go inside then...."

Rogers was obviously past the point where the Company aid man could help him. It was imperative to get him to the Battalion Aid Station immediately. Hoffman ran out to the road, and tested one of the jeeps that had been hit or simply abandoned in the battle for Vossenack. The first vehicle he tested was in working condition. Hoffman drove, with Webb holding the unconscious man on the hood. It was a hellish ride, over half a mile of dark, cratered road, with artillery bursting ahead, behind and on both sides of them.

"We finally got him to the aid station", Sergeant Webb finished the story, "but he didn't live long after that. Doc Block said later he should have died instantly, because- well, if you'd seen him, you'd know why."

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Poems are the work of British poet Wilfred Owen. Owen was born in Shropshire, England in 1893. Leaving a post as tutor to a French family in Bordeaux, Owen returned to England in 1915 where he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles. He was commissioned in the Manchester Regiment in 1916. Most of his war poems were written between January 1917, when he was sent to the Western Front, and November 1918. Awarded the Military Cross on October 4, 1918, Owen was killed in action exactly one month later, on November 4, 1918. His poems were the inspiration for Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, commissioned for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The original cathedral had been destroyed by German bombing in WWII.

Flowers photographed by Vivian Corbin: magnolia, peonies, rhododendron and dogwood at the Scott Arboretum; edelweiss in the Swiss Alps.

©Copyright2000 Vivian Corbin. All rights reserved.