Remembering Brave Soldiers From WWII

By Mr. Aaron P Talley (IMCOM)April 19, 2016

Torbole 1
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UPDATED - April 19, 2016 - includes information for memorial on April 30, 2016

During the end of World War II, American forces were working their way through northern Italy, rounding up the last vestiges of the Germany resistance. The Germans knew the end of the war was near, so now it was just a matter of who would be able to retreat to Germany or Switzerland, and who would have to surrender to the Allied Forces. During those last days, the fighting was fiercest around the territory north of Verona, on the coasts of Lake Garda in the towns of Torbole and Riva.

Two historic events occurred during that fighting, one well known and one not-so-well known. The first is the death of Col. William Darby, founder of the modern day Ranger Battalions who won great fame during World War II. At the time Darby was the commander of the 10th Mountain Division's Task Force Darby, built around the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 605th Field Artillery Battalion and attached units, which finally rooted out the last German forces still fighting in Italy. It was in the final moments of the fighting in Torbole that Col. Darby (posthumously promoted to Brig. Gen.) was killed by a single enemy artillery shell along with SGM John Evans of the 86th Mountain Infantry. It was April 30, 1945, and he was discussing his battle plans for the next day with the commander of the 86th Mountain Infantry, Lt. Col. Robert Cook, when the retreating enemy fired a parting shot at the allied forces. Col. Darby was struck by a piece of shrapnel and died within the hour.

The second event took place later that same evening. In an effort to take out German forces on the western side of the lake in Riva, a group of 26 men were loaded onto a DUKW amphibious truck at Torbole, and moved out onto the lake crossing from the eastern to the western side. Along with the men, crews from B and C Battery, 605th Field Artillery Battalion, were two 75mm pack howitzers.

But during the crossing, the overloaded vehicle stalled, and began to take on water. Only one of the men was able to swim back to shore. All 25 remaining Soldiers went down with the DUKW, and their bodies have not been recovered to this day.

But, while these Soldiers still remain missing in Lake Garda, they have not been forgotten. A local volunteer group, the Gruppo Volontari del Garda, well remember their tragic loss, and have been searching for the sunken DUKW over the past few years. In December of 2012, one group of Italian divers claims to have found the vehicle below 270 meters of water, at a point where historical records believe the DUKW sunk. They determined that future recovery efforts would be difficult in those conditions, and so to date there has been no decision made on what to do about the wreck site.

UPDATE - To honor these men and all the fallen from WW II, Italians and Americans will gather at Torbole, Italy, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. There will be a dedication of a memorial marker stone in the plaza at Torbole near the Darby Memorial. The ceremony will take place at the end point for the annual Col. Darby 10th Mountain Division annual 40-mile, 12-hour ranger challenge. There will be service members from Vicenza and Aviano, 10th Mountain Division representatives, Italian civic volunteer groups (including the group that found the DUWK in 2012), WW II reenactors groups, and various other Italian organizations. Vicenza community members are invited to attend the ceremony.

In honor of those that perished, here are the names of the fallen Soldiers aboard the DUKW that fateful evening, April 30, 1945.

B/605th FAB, 10th MD

Cpl. William R. Armstrong

Pvt. Merle Britton

Pfc. Willard E. Chapman

Pfc. Jerry T. Dillard

Cpl. Emory E. Hamilton

Pvt. Howard Harper

Cpl. James Harwell

Pfc. Edward E. Koskela

Pfc. Stanley R. Lade

Cpl. William E. Madara

Pfc. Frank J. Miller

Pvt. William C. Morrison, Jr.

Pvt. Roger L. Murray

Pfc. Elmer C. Paulson

Pfc. Xwell Y. Reynolds

Cpl. Gayle W. Russell, Jr.

Pvt. Frank Tame

Pfc. Charles E. Tannehill

C/605th FAB, 10th MD

Pfc. Walter J. Armstrong

Cpl. Max L. Champion

1st Sgt. James S. Hilley

Pfc. Leroy A. King

Pfc. Norman B. Russel

Cpl. Richard Wright

52d QM BN, 10th MD

Pfc. Nicholas DelGrosso

Related Links:

USAG Vicenza Facebook page

Strip Map and info for April 30, 2016 Event

USAG Vicenza Homepage