WWII Vets

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Tim Dolan, one time a member of the 1st Army, 329th Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division, 1st battalion, knows all too well what it's like to use a weapon to defend one's self. The 83rd “Thunderbolt” Division took part in some of the heaviest combat in WWII, from the onslaught of Operation Neptune that led 160,000 troops into battle on D-Day, to the troops of the 83rd jumping into warm but deadly waters during the Normandy beach landings on June 6, 1944, to the fighting in Hurtgen Forest, a hellish battleground in Germany, to fighting 500,000 Germans in the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium with sub-zero temperatures during the Battle of the Bulge. The soldiers in the 83rd, as a part of the 329th Infantry Regiment, were in General George Patton’s own words, “The finest body of soldiers I have ever seen in the field.”
Dolan went into Normandy on the third wave of the invasion force. “I was a 16 mm mortar operator during the war,” he said. The assault on Germany by the Americans went by the code name Operation Overlord. “During D-Day, a general once told me that you're going to want to save your helmet. You will use it for everything, as a pot to cook in or to shave in. You used it for everything,” Dolan remembered. The D-Day invasion started a month before the advance on the beaches, and by August 1, 1944, after the invasion, General George S. Patton of the Third Army was brought in to help fight against the Germans. The Normandy invasion was not over yet, and Patton was just getting started in the war in Europe. When Patton's Third Army got involved in August of 1944, Dolan was “sitting in a foxhole the day Patton's army went over us with planes. We watched them go by and we tried to count all the B-51 airplanes. Some 3,000 of them flew over us.” Tim Dolan remembers when he first saw the general in person, “I was sitting on a dead cow eating my supper when Patton walked by,” he said laughing.
In the Ardennes Offensive, or as it’s commonly known, Battle of the Bulge, that raged over a month in the vast forest extending into Luxembourg, the Germans inflicted 81,000 American casualties. The Americans, with a tough fight, defeated the Fuehrer’s forces with 100,000 killed, wounded and captured, according to the History News Network. In the tenacious fighting, which characterized the Battle of the Bulge, the 329th played a major role. For it “halted the German onslaught near Rochefort in the Belgian sector of the Ardennes. Soon thereafter, American outfits, including the 329th, counterattacked, which in a short time, brought the ground war back to the German homeland,” reads the hnn.com article. The Fuehrer had this to say before the Ardennes Offensive, “In the East, the vastness of space will […] permit a loss of territory […] without suffering a mortal blow to Germany’s chance for survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds […] consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.” Adolf Hitler’s Directive 51.
Dolan’s unit was without supplies or food for extended periods of time during the Bulge. Recorded by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), veterans said that the Bulge “was the worst” and that it was extremely cold and the soldiers didn’t have good equipment to keep them warm. Most soldiers would lay awake at night shivering in thin sleeping bags. An Army truck would arrive every morning to collect the grotesquely frozen bodies of American soldiers who died from the cold the night before. Tim Dolan was lucky to have survived. During the Bulge, on January 14, 1945, Dolan almost froze to death and was medically evacuated to the hospital until the end of the war. But the advance on Germany continued rapidly after the Bulge, and the soldiers breached the border of Germany. “So quickly did the 329th progress, it set a record in military history for infantry by marches being 15 to 17 miles a day,” reads hnn.com. Although he couldn’t be with his battalion on April 13, 1945, Dolan was with them in spirit for the “1st battalion, soon joined by the 2nd and 3rd became the first Allied infantry units to cross the Elbe River. The 1st and 3rd battalions […] advanced eastward to Nutha and Gutergluck (hnn.com). After this, the 329th Infantry Regiment took the town of Zerbst “the last operation of the 329th in Europe, and it did not involve the firing of a single shot on either side.”
The 329th was the closest U.S. unit to Berlin at the end of World War II, being ordered to stop some 30 miles short of the city. As a result, Hitler’s forces were perishing. Soon thereafter, on May 4, the Russians arrived and concluded in an unofficial way, the 329th’s noble role in World War II’s Western Front. Four days later, on May 8, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered. Alive, Dolan walked out of a hell that most cannot dream about in their worst nightmare. To show for his bravery, he earned the Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, European Theater Service Medal, the Victory Medal, and the Jubilee of Liberty Medal. He did a great service for the country, and one would expect that when he got home he would be treated with utmost respect. But a war that Dolan would battle for decades was on the horizon and on the home front. Dolan's injuries were hard to deal with back home. His legs and hands were stiff as bone from the frostbite, and they “itched and broke out in big bubbles,” said Dolan. His doctors would tell him some 50 years later, that his hair follicles also froze at the roots on his arms and legs. No hair has ever grown back.
In his plush chair, Dolan slid his sock down to show how far up his legs the frostbite actually went. Almost to his knees, a dark discoloration crawled upwards. “From 1945 to 2005, I've fought for my compensation for my injuries I got during the war,” said Dolan. He fought some 60 years with the Veterans Administration for his healthcare and compensation for his wartime injuries. On one of many trips to the VA, Dolan visited their office in Cincinnati in the 1980’s, and he was tired of fighting with them. “What made things worse was when I tucked some cigarettes in my pocket, and they accidentally dropped out onto the floor,” said Dolan. “After that, they blamed the discoloration on my legs from smoking.” Then Dolan went to the VA in Columbus. “I was getting fed up,” said Dolan. “I had to see a doctor there [so the VA could make sure the injuries were from wartime], and when she walked in I said, ‘Are you my doctor? You better get ready because I have a chip on my shoulder and you better knock it off.’” She never did fix that chip.
Not until 2005 when Dolan went to visit John Kitts, the previous director of the Morgan County Veterans Service Office, did Dolan receive the benefits and healthcare he had earned with his wartime service. Dolan is not the only veteran who has had to fight for his compensation and healthcare. There have been hundreds of cases the DAV and other agencies have tried to win for their clients who served in WWII. The problem most of the time for the WWII veterans was lack of medical records. “The place where [the records] were in St. Louis had a big fire. We had to fight so long because of that,” said Betty. “The Morgan County Veterans Service Office brought up my compensation from 30 to 80 percent and they got me back pay to 1988,” remembers Dolan. His 80 percent compensation turned into 100 percent after teaming up with Kitts. “We both said let’s go for it, and we fought for 100 percent and got the full amount in 2005,” said Dolan. After a 60 year battle, Dolan was 83 years old when he finally won all his compensation; today he is 90 Dolan remembers his commander of the 329th Infantry Regiment – Colonel Erwin B. Crabill – who many called “Pete the Tramp.” To conclude with a few poignant words from the Colonel, he said: “Beneath the soil of Europe lie the bodies of over 850 of our comrades. To the hospitals have gone nearly 4,000 others wounded in action. Most of these were killed or wounded because when the time came for them to decide between safety or duty, they chose the latter.” Our debt to them cannot be paid, he concluded. Indeed, any payment cannot come close. [Source: Morgan County Herald Leona Jewell 8 Feb 2012 ++]

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