By Capt. David Miller, 120th Infantry Brigade, Division WestJune 3, 2016
SALADO, Texas -- Four World War II veterans, all of whom served with the 393rd Infantry Regiment, mingled with their present-day counterparts and received honorific medals during the unit's recent Regimental Ball held the eve of the anniversary of Allied forces crossing the Rhine River in 1945.
The event began with the telling of the 393rd's actions in World War II, leading up to the unit's inactivation in 1945.
"It was fascinating to hear history come to life as it was told by four of our living veterans," said Sgt. 1st Class Philip LeBoeuf, a current member of 1st Battalion393rd Infantry Regiment. The 393rd was reactivated Oct. 17, 1999, with its headquarters at Fort Hood under the 120th Infantry Brigade, Division West, First Army.
Beginning in 1942 and continuing until mid-1944, the 393rd Infantry Regiment conducted advanced training in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. After completing training, the Soldiers shipped out to England and from there left for France in 1944.
"We were cursed by the French populace," said Seymour Berkman, who was a staff sergeant in the 393rd. "Along the road, they threw rocks at us, rotten tomatoes, everything you could think of. The French told us they had peace there for three years. All you did is bring the war back."
However, in Belgium, the Soldiers were greeted as heroes as they occupied defensive positions on the Maginot Line.
"We were placed in the Ardennes forest," said Joe Kagan, a lieutenant and commander of the 393rd's Troop F during the war. "We were green troops and had very little experience. At that time, the feeling was that the war was over, and green troops were gonna hold the line."
On Dec. 13, 1944, E. Jay Burke and the rest of his battalion captured a German defensive position.
"We thought we'd poked a hole in the hornet's nest, because we thought [the Germans] were angry at us and giving us a counter attack," Burke said. "When we went down [to the bottom of the hill] for breakfast on the 16th, breakfast wasn't there. Our kitchen crew was all gone; they even stole our ration cans."
The Regiment defended against an echelon of Light Infantry and Armor Elements of the entire German 277th Volks Grenadier Division after a devastating artillery barrage.
"We lived in snow and ice and cold," Berkman said. "At five in the morning, the Germans started the Battle of the Bulge by opening an artillery barrage. The shells were hitting the tops of the trees, and then the shrapnel just covered the entire area beneath."
"It was real chaos," Kagan said.
The unit fell back to the towns of Krinkelt and Rocherath and, eventually, Elsenborn Crest, where the Soldiers consolidated and reorganized. Near Elsenborn Crest, they successfully defeated three different German attacks.
From Elsenborn Crest, the unit went back on the offensive, seizing key terrain en route to Remagen, where the 9th Armored Division had captured the Ludendorff Bridge. The 393rd was part of the first full division to cross the river. Kagan, who led his Soldiers across the bridge, said that his company was one of the first to cross the river.
"I don't run so fast, but I ran pretty quick and, when we got to the other side, hugged the cliff, and the Germans were shooting down on us," Kagan said. "We stopped that and moved inland and continued on into Germany."
Kagan described an underground factory producing armaments in Wetzlar that was manned by Russian slave labor. When the Americans freed the town, the Russians came rushing out from underground.
"It was like New Year's Eve in Times Square," Kagan recalled.
Soldiers of the 393rd rescued and provided medical treatment for approximately 300 American prisoners of war the Germans had left to die in train cars. Among the prisoners were two Soldiers from the 393rd's Company L.
"It was a happy day for us to let those fellows from L Company see the light of day again," said Burke.
After the war, and for many decades, the 393rd Soldiers kept in touch with each other through the 99th Division Association. But it wasn't until March 2016 that they made a connection with the current 393rd Infantry Regiment.
The night of the first 393rd Regimental Ball in Salado, Kagan, Berkman, Burke and former Pfc. John McCoy were were special guests of honor for this historic event.
"Having these veterans at the ball was a big deal to all of us," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, commander of First Army Division West. "I have never seen a ball come so alive with history, and that really helps instill pride in one's unit. At many points in the night, the ball seemed to become a tribute to the unit's World War II veterans from their successors."
During a traditional grog ceremony, the World War II veterans poured in a bottle of brandy, representing a bottle of brandy 393rd Soldiers had taken home from the war and kept in the unit's association. That brandy had been intended to be drunk by the unit's last living member, but, in 2011, all the surviving association members partook in the drink when the group disbanded.
In front of a 200-person audience at the 393rd Regimental Ball, the veterans spoke of the liquor's significance and said it was added to the grog in honor of all the veterans who could not make it to the ceremony. Later in the evening, the World War II Veterans were presented Orders of Saint Maurice, the patron saint of the Infantry.
"It was an honor to present these individuals with this small token of appreciation," said Lt. Col. Steven Tabat, commander of the 1st Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment. "What they did should always be remembered, and it gives our generation of Soldiers something to emulate."