Recently, a Better Display Cases customer, Ed, bought one of our catcher's mitt display cases for his father, restored his dad's mitt from high school, and gave them both to his dad as a present. When he told us a little about his father's history in the military and sent us some pictures of his dad's new case and his old uniform, we knew we wanted to help tell his story, because it really is one that should be remembered.
Ed's father was Joseph, a true American hero who fought in some of the harshest battles the world had ever seen during World War II. Joseph was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, after completing 2 years of college. He underwent tank training at Fort Hood to become part of a Tank Destroyer unit. The Tank Destroyers were specialized squadrons that used a variety of weapons, like self-propelled-guns (drivable artillery cannons) and m18's (recoilless mortar rifles) to take down enemy armor. These brave soldiers were put in charge of destroying the enemy's deadliest weapons, and for that Joseph and his ilk have earned our complete and total respect.
In order for the Allied forces to liberate France from Axis control, they needed a safe port on the mainland of Europe to launch a campaign from. The allied generals decided that a huge scale invasion of the beaches of Normandy was their best plan to create this European foothold. The attack would send more than a hundred thousand allied men onto the beach, facing against a heavily fortified wall of German defensive gun emplacements and soldiers.
A fifty-mile section of Normandy's Axis controlled, Atlantic coast was split into five strategic sections that needed to be captured and linked to create a strong enough jumping off point for the rest of the European offensive. 24,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landed shortly after midnight, June 6th, 1944, and started marching up the beach towards the axis forces. Forces continued to land on the beach for weeks, with Joseph's TD division landing on the fourth day of the operation.
Joseph's objective was to scale the hills and remove the German machine guns that were reigning fire on allied troops landing on the beach. Around 4,000 American soldiers died in the attack before the beaches of Normandy fell under allied control. Joseph personally believes that this was the most significant historical event of the 20th century.
After the invasion of Normandy on D-day, the allied forces pushed across Europe faster than the axis could have expected. Unfortunately for the allies however, this rapid forward movement left their forces with a severe supply problem. Because there were no ports that the U.S. could use to quickly resupply their offensive, in part due to axis sabotage, they relied on ground based supply lines to ferry food and ammunition across Europe.
General Eisenhower decided to use the U.S. First Army to hold the Ardennes region, a densely forested, snowy highland in northern Belgium, while their supply lines caught up with them. Allied offensive efforts were slowed as they waited, until the First Canadian Army reopened the port of Antwerp during the battle of Scheldt. Hitler, seeing that the allied forces were regaining the ability to march their army toward the Reichstag, and that their forces would assuredly dominate his, developed a desperate plan for a surprise counter attack.
Early one December morning in 1944, German armies marched west into the Ardennes, after a barrage of German artillery landed on the allied front. Their goal was to split the allied western army into two, easily manageable sections, by thrusting straight through allied front lines. The allies were hamstrung by their overconfidence, and completely surprised by the sudden attack.
The German forces rolled over their defenses and began to cut through the front, until fierce defense of Elsenborn Ridge caused German armor brigades to be redirected onto rougher, slower alternate paths, and the retaking of the town of Bastogne blocked German access to many of the roads they intended to send troops down. The battle for Bastogne heavily relied on Tank Destroyer Unit's like Joseph's, and as many as 30 German heavy tanks were destroyed in the assault and defense of the re-captured town. With each loss of territory, the German forces had fewer paths to send troops into the Ardennes. The speed of their westward assault slowed to a crawl, and their forward momentum was crippled.
As the battle raged on, air conditions improved which allowed airborne attacks on German forces and supply lines. The combination of slower troop movement and air assaults ruined any possibility of an axis victory and the German forces retreated, severely weakened from the loss, to the Siegfried Line, a defensive wall of trenches, bunkers, and turrets built along the western border of the old German empire.
This failed counter offensive became known as the Battle of the Bulge, because of the way the allied front line bulged up around the German attack. Eisenhower's personnel chief stated the official death tally was just under 9000 American troops, out of the 610,000 that were involved, making it the largest and bloodiest battle the United States Army was ever involved in.
The Tank Destroyers had crippled the Axis amour divisions so badly during the battle that the German Army's tank power largely collapsed. Many Tank Destroyer units were folded into general artillery support for the remainder of the war, simply because there were not enough enemy tanks to be a threat anymore. The Tank Destroyers were disbanded shortly after the end of the war, because it was deemed too risky to send infantry after enemy armor, and the job was given to newly developed American tanks.
Joseph remembers the teeth of the tanks as they smashed through the hedges and fences, storming across Europe. Anyone who rushed towards these metal monsters, not away, is truly braver then I can imagine. He is a true American hero, and a hero to the whole world. Without the efforts of Joseph and other TDs like him, the end of the war would have surely looked a lot different.
Joseph came home to Staten Island after the war to work for New York Telephone, which merged with other companies to become Verizon, before retiring to work as a real estate broker for 15 years. His neighbors know him as "Uncle Joe" and they know, just like we do, that we all owe Joseph a debt. Thank you, sir, for your bravery, from all of us here at Better Display Cases.
We are always looking for someone who has an interesting story to tell, so if you do, or you know someone who does, send us a message and a picture, and your story could be featured here next time on the BDC blog.
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