7th Army, 103rd Cactus Division,
In 1998, I asked my dad to summarize his service during WWII for a paper I was writing. I was surprised to find out that upon his discharge, after serving a tour of duty for 3 years, Dad had earned the rank of communications sergeant in the 7th Army, 103rd Division. He also only mentioned it after I asked specifically about his rank. He was always so humble and put others first. He made it a priority in his life to honor those that served, especially those that didn't return. Dad very graciously obliged my request and endured my interruptions and peppering of questions for an afternoon while I typed out his statements about his service that began after he was drafted in 1942. Also I found information in the book, 103rd Infantry Division, by Harold Branton. Below is an excerpt from that paper...
After landing in France, and seeing much action, General George S. Patton chose the 103rd Division for an important mission. He thought they were the most outstanding division in the 7th Army. It was the 103rd that broke through the Siegfried Line in the 7th Army which was a fortress for the German forces. (Adolph Hitler Visits the Siegfried Line) After this success the 103rd was moved North 75 miles and relieved the 6th Armored Division and soundly defeated the Germans at that battle which was known as "The Battle of the Bitsche Bulge" (December 16, 2014 was the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Slideshow below are photos of the Siegfried Line and the 103rd at the Battle of the Bulge). After this encounter the 45th Division relieved the 103rd that then went on to establish what is referred to as a "winter defensive line." According to dad, "Due to the excellent leadership of the regimental commanders, the Germans attempts to encircle the division were stopped." The German's had Tiger tanks that used a lot of petro - they cushioned the noise of the tanks with straw. It allowed them to surprise the American troops. He said the German planes were always attacking too.
When Germany invaded Poland some of the poor souls they captured were forced to work in munition factories creating bombs for the Third Reich. Dad said many times that he was eternally grateful to the Polish people. One of the shells that landed under his truck did not go off. He had heard of how the Polish Resistance took great risks sabotaging the production line of explosives rendering them ineffective. That risk saved his and the lives of several other soldiers in the truck with him that night. Click here to read of these efforts. Dad would have loved this new ad launched this Veterans Day from Polish National Foundation thanking U.S.
George went on to say that the accomplishments of the 103rd were many. They were the first division to penetrate the Siegfried Line and also cross over into Germany. But one of their successes stood out among the rest. The 103rd was able to prevent the German army from giving Strasbourg to Hitler as a Christmas present. Hitler in a rage announced to the Germans he was placing a death sentence on all members of the 103rd division. George said that the men of the 103rd laughed at Hitler’s tantrum. They went on and captured many prisoners and kept the Germans from crossing the Rhine River. The division then crossed the river and captured Innsbruck, the fourth largest city in Austria. Linking up with the 5th Army at Brenner Pass ended the war for the 103rd Division. The Cactus Division received three battle stars and many other awards from other countries. George remarked, "There was a lot of champagne and celebrating...We couldn't believe it was finally over."
See map below, for my attempt to follow the trail of the Cactus division- (the blue pins). Also the map shows my son Alex's destinations from summer of 2011 trip to Europe too (the yellow pins). Dad would have been so proud to know Alex visited some of the same areas. While Alex stayed with a family in Austria, he shared information with them about dad and his tour of duty. In particular, about how they took the town of Innsbruk back from the German army and liberated a concentration camp that was less than 150 miles from where they lived. Alex's group met with a holocaust survivor at Mauthausen. A concentration camp that held the record for executions and deaths.
Dad worked 2 jobs to send me and my 5 brothers and sisters to Catholic schools. For years he got up in the middle of the night and hauled mail about 2 am each morning. Then was up and at his day job at the Missouri State Library by 8 a.m. He and our mom taught us so much - so many life lessons. Honoring them always with our life's work.
George H. Hitz
1922 - 2002
Oct 20, 1944 Arrived port of Marseilles, France
Nov 1, 1944 Left Marseilles, France
Nov 9, 1944 Arrived Docelles, France
Nov 10 - 30,1944 Vosges Mountain Operations
Dec 1 - 4, 1944 Battle of Selestat
Dec 5 - 23, 1944 Alsace Campain
Dec 23 - Mar 15 Wissembourg and Sessenheim
Jan 12, 1945 US liberates Philippines
Jan 20, 1945 Franklin D Roosevelt in for Fourth term as President
Mar 15 -31, 1945 Saar - Palatinate
Apr 1945 Roosevelt dies, Truman becomes President
Apr 1, 1945 Danube River to Innsbruck, Austria
Apr 27, 1945 Liberated Kaufering Concentration Camp
May 6, 1945 German Surrender at Innsbrook
Aug 24, 1945 Moved to Landsberg, Germany pre-departure
My dad always spoke in general terms of all the men in his division. I, like my brothers and sisters, knew our Dad was a wonderful person with a lot of faith, courage and heart. We wish he were here so we could tell him how proud we are to be his children. All those who fought in this terrible war - either through combat or resistance or suffered at the hands of the Third Reich, are heroes. May they and all veterans never be forgotten. This was truly...the greatest generation.
St. Peter Catholic Church Veteran's Day Service 2012
Veterans Day and Memorial Day are both, a wonderful opportunity to remember them and their sacrifices. Dad along with 3 or 4 other men from our parish (St. Peter Catholic Church), began honoring the veterans of our country with a memorial service on Veteran's Day in the early 1960's. He continued to lead the planning of this effort every year thereafter until his passing in 2002. He must be very pleased to know it continues to be one of the larger Veteran's Day services held in central Missouri (50+ years since the first one) even now, more than 10 years after he went home to our Lord.
A Letter To the Editor from Dad (one of many over the years)
about Veteran's Day Jefferson City Tribune, November 10, 1976
Below is Dad presenting Flag to local police
He initiated a program for all of the police officers to wear the US Flag on their coat sleeve to encourage respect for law enforcement officers.
"When the policeman is on duty he represents
George Hitz, March 15, 1970
Dad worked at the Missouri State Library for 30 years upon retirement in 1984. This picture was taken on November 29, 1956. From left to right in the picture: Polley Bignell, Reference librarian; George Hitz; Clara Goetz; Berniece Snell.
In a letter my Dad wrote to me while I was on a high school retreat, he said that the letters he received from his mother during the war helped immensely. She spoke a great deal of faith and prayer. He relied upon his faith and prayer to see him through those dark days. Her letters were always reassuring and helped him to remain steadfast. He received one every day that mail was delivered. Like so many families during this time, Dad was one of three sons that my grandmother had fighting in this war. I never knew her, she passed away before I was born. I know through my dad though, that she was a very faith-filled individual who endured a great deal in her lifetime. All three sons survived the war and returned home after it ended.
The 103rd launched on October 6, 1944 from New York and arrived in Marseilles, France on October 20, 1944. Dad told my brother George once, that as their ship sailed away from New York he kept his eyes fixed on the Statue of Liberty till he could no longer see it and all the while wondering if he'd ever see it again...
The United States Holocaust Museum
Summary about the 103rd Division
Established in 1942, the 103rd Infantry Division landed in southern France in late October 1944, a few months after the Allied invasion of Western Europe on D-Day (June 6). From the port of Marseille, the “Cactus” division advanced northward, eventually crossing into Germany in December 1944. The swift German offensive into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge that month forced the unit to take up defensive positions in the area of Alsace-Lorraine. In March 1945, the 103rd advanced into the Rhineland, then moved southward into Bavaria. On May 3, 1945, the division captured the city of Innsbruck in Austria.
As the 103rd moved into Bavaria, its troop’s uncovered one of the Nazi sub camps attached to the Kaufering camp complex in the Landsberg area.
The 103rd Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1985.
Casualty figures for the 103rd Infantry Division, European theater of operations
Total battle casualties: 4,558
Total deaths in battle: 834
The 103rd Infantry Division, the “Cactus” division, is so called after the 103rd’s shoulder patch, a cactus in a gold circle. The cactus is representative of the states whose troops formed the unit in the early 1920s: Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
I found this information after my Dad's passing...
Members of the 103rd - Liberation of the Landsberg Concentration Camp
(To read more about Landsberg Concentration Camp and the liberation click here)
103rd Infantry Division soldier
inspects a sign denoting where
the Cactus Division crossed the
line into Germany- They were
the first to do so.
Dad's Furlough's Home
announcements in Jefferson City
Tribune May 6, 1943 and
Feb 18, 1944
Members of Signal Company Laying and Repairing Communication Lines
Dad was in Signal Company