The M-1

Floyd’s memoir and the conversations with Carl Wouters and Doug Miller standing in Dad’s and Floyd’s foxhole were my principal sources when I wrote about Donald Schultz’s death. Mom and I left Europe with the firm belief that it was Donald’s rifle that Dad picked up as he, Floyd, and the rest of their squad were the last to be pulled off the front on the night of December 18, 1944. I have sent flowers to Donald’s grave in Henri-Chapelle Cemetery every holiday since.

But since then, I’ve had reason to doubt the accuracy of this belief. More information has come to me from the son of a particular friend of Donald’s who was with him when he died. Doug C. is the son of Donald’s friend, William (Bill) C. Doug C. found my blog while researching the location of Donald’s grave, which he planned to visit at Henri-Chapelle during a planned trip to Belgium during the 2020 holiday season.

Bill C. and Donald were in the same .30 cal machine gun squad. Doug C. explained his father and Donald made a deal that if one died in the War and the other survived, the survivor would tell the family of his friend what happened. My dad would have called them Bunkie’s. In Dad’s terminology, a Bunkie was someone you trusted with things like that.

Doug C. and I talked about Donald and our connection through him. My understanding of how Donald died genuinely confused him. Doug C. provided me with a copy of the affidavits of 2 soldiers about Donald’s death (now posted on www.indianamilitary.org). The facts in the affidavits were very different from what Floyd Ragsdale reported in his memoir. I was, at first, rather surprised about Floyd’s confusion about the manner of Donald’s death. Surely, his memory of those events, the scars of which he carried all his life, could not be so wrong. But the Affidavit’s are clear. Floyd memory about how Donald died was faulty.

Affidavit of Facts regarding the death of Pfc. Donald Schultz

Based upon the facts in the two Affidavits, the morning of the initial German assault, Donald was in a firing trench with his .30 cal machine gun squad in a defensive position towards the front of the line (in front of the position of the foxhole Dad and Floyd and their 60mm mortar). At 0730 December 16, 1944 he was hit in the head by small arms fire. According to the affidavit, the bullet passed completely through his head. Death came quickly for the mortally stricken young man. Doug C. told me his father, Donald’s friend Bill C., jumped on the machine gun and let loose a hail of .30 cal bullets into the advancing Germans. (After the War, Bill C. fulfilled his promise to his Bunkie, and visited Donald’s family.)

Donald’s body was placed on a stretcher, carried to the company supply tent, and left outside, out of the way. Eventually his body was removed from the stretcher when it was needed for another injured GI on December 17, 1944. Donald’s body was left lying in the snow behind the supply tent. Floyd would surely have seen Donald’s remains as he travelled back and forth between the front line and the supply tent for the mortars needed by Dad the rest of the day on 16th, and again throughout the 17th and 18th of December, 1944.

Donald’s body remained in the snow behind the supply tent, left behind when the entire company pulled out on the night of December 18, 1944. We do not know why his remains were not sent back to a medical field hospital where the process for identification and processing of the dead would have been properly handled. Maybe in the heat of those early days of the Battle, with so many wounded and needing transport back to the field hospitals there was no time or space to move Donald’s body.

Donald was reported Missing In Action on December 30, 1944 in the G Co Morning Reports; the same day as Dad. Donald never again appeared in the G Co Morning Reports that I have, which stretch through early August 1945. According to his family, Donald’s mother received a telegram from the War Department in January 1945; probably about the same time Dad’s parents received the letter from Dad from the hospital in Liege via V-Mail, and then later the same day, the telegram from the War Department reporting him MIA.

Graves Registry was the assignment no soldier wanted. Graves Registry soldiers were tasked with finding, identifying, and properly burying the dead. They were detectives in some cases to ensure proper identification of the bodies in horrific conditions and reported their findings for War Crimes proceedings. This was the case for the discovery of the Wereth 11 and the discovery of the remains of 84 American POW’s killed at Malmedy by the Germans under the command of Joachim Pieper. The creed of Graves Registry is “Dignity, Reverence, Respect”.

Graves Registry (clockwise) Normandy, Bastogne, unknown cemetery, Henri Chapelle, Malmedy

The unfortunate circumstances of War mean that Graves Registry units are given an extremely difficult duty. GR soldiers have historically suffered a higher rate of PTSD than any other units. GR are investigators who travel the theatre of battle and ask questions of the locals so they could find and care for the remains of our soldiers killed in action. The dead are potentially identified by dog tags, laundry marks on clothing, fingerprints where possible, dental records where possible, and the testimony of witnesses. They also collected any personal property on the dead, and often cleaned these items of the evidence of the soldiers’ death, so they could be returned to family. GR often cleaned up the evidence of the personal affairs of the dead that might be found on their bodies. GR didn’t send items of personal property that might cause pain such as evidence of extra-marital relationships while overseas.

I’m in possession of the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) from the 610th Graves Registry concerning Donald. The Bürgermeister of Ouren, Belgium reported to the 610th Quartermasters Graves Registration Company the existence of a common grave in Grosskampenberg, Germany. Co G had been positioned in sight of this small town on the border between Germany. Luxembourg and Belgium.

Donald Schultz was buried by German civilians of Grosskampenberg along with 5 other soldiers: Ralph E Ramseyer, Otto W. Colbert, Leonard Hooper, Floyd R. Stephens and one who was still unidentified at the time. Three were immediately identified as from the 106th Division. Donald Schultz 106/424/G killed December 16, 1944 at 0730. Ralph E. Ramseyer of 106/424/G, from Iowa, was killed in action on December 17, 1944 and was buried to Donald’s left in the common grave. Otto W. Colbert, 106/424/F, from Pennsylvania, was killed in action on December 17, 1944 and was on Donald’s right in the common grave. The remaining 2 bodies were not identified initially. All 6 bodies were disinterred by GR on May 28, 1945. 

The civilians had removed the dog tags from all the men when they buried them. The Bürgermeister (of Ouren? Or of Grosskampen?) had turned the dog tags over to the Red Cross. It’s unknown if the dog tags in possession of the Red Cross were the reason the GR men were asking their questions or if they had other intelligence that lead them there.

Donald’s remains were transferred the same day to Cemetery #1 in Foy Belgium and reburied at Plot I, Row 6 Grave 149. His remains were initially identified by clothing marks. A dental chart indicates several of his teeth, previously present in photos, were missing when the Graves Registry soldiers examined his remains. It’s likely his teeth were damaged or lost in the violence of the gunshot that killed him. It was not possible, 5 months after his death, to use fingerprints to identify Donald. A handwritten correction to the IDPF notes a partial letter dated October 16, 1945 was found on Donald’s body.

Donald’s family finally received notice of the death of their son on July 16, 1945, seven months to the day from his death, and nearly 2 months after Graves Registry had discovered his remains. Any hope his family had that their boy was alive in a German POW camp was now gone, with a sad finality.

On July 29, 1945, a Report of Death was generated by the War Department. It confirmed Donald’s death was sufficiently established as fact and noted that his mother was his emergency contact and, along with his sister LoAnne, was his beneficiary.

On October 7, 1945 memorial services were held at Trinity Presbyterian Church located less than half a mile from the home where Donald grew up.

On September 24, 1946, more than a year after receiving notice from the War Department that Donald was dead, Donald’s mother wrote to ask for information about the name of the cemetery where her boy was buried. I cannot imagine the pain she must have experienced for 14 months knowing her only son was dead and buried but not knowing where. 

On October 14, 1946 Capt. Thomas F. Lewin, QMC Assistant, replied to Donald’s mother to let her know that Donald was still in the temporary grave in Foy, 4 miles north of Bastogne. On January 5, 1948, 16 months after Maj. General Larkin’s answer to her question about her son’s resting place and just over 3 years after he died, Donald’s mother received another letter from Maj. General Thomas B. Larkin explaining the options with regard to the final disposition of Donald’s remains. She could have his remains shipped home to be buried in Wisconsin or left in Europe to be buried and kept in perpetuity there. Mrs. Schultz chose to leave her son overseas, buried on the continent where he died. After all, it has been more than 3 years since her boy had died. How do you decide what is best in these circumstances? Bring him home after so much time, so you can visit his grave, but cause unimaginable pain to yourself and Donald’s sisters in the process? Or simply sign the document that would leave him in Belgium knowing you’d likely never have the chance to stand over his grave and mourn him? She made the choice a lot of families did; she let him remain in Belgium.

Eisenhower at Henri Chapelle Memorial Day 1945
Henri Chapelle
Henri Chapelle

On July 15, 1948, 7 months later and more than 3 and a half years after his death, Graves Registry produced a Disinterment Directive, which ordered the transfer of Donald’s remains to Henri-Chapelle.  He was disinterred from his temporary resting place in Foy on September 22, 1948.  His remains were prepared and placed in a transfer box on September 23, 1948. An embalmer named Willard B. Balch sealed his casket, it was boxed, and marked on October 13, 1948.

Soldiers’ remains arriving at a ETO Cemetery for burial

Mom and I visited Donald’s grave on October 19, 2017 – approximately 69 years after Donald was laid to rest at his final destination, his coffin draped with the flag he fought under, and with the military honors he had earned at such a high price. The Disinterment Directive notes that a flag was sent to Donald’s mother on November 10, 1948. Donald was buried at Henri-Chapelle sometime between October 13 when his casket was sealed in Foy and November 10, 1948, when his mother received the flag that draped his coffin as he was buried at Heri-Chapelle. No one he knew and loved was there to stand by his grave as he was lowered into the ground so far from home.

On January 7, 1949 Maj. General Thomas B. Larkin once again wrote to Donald’s mother to let her know the location of Donald’s final resting place in the cemetery at Henri-Chapelle. She was told the cemetery was still burying soldiers and not yet open for visitors, but informed her “due notice” of the cemetery’s opening would be carried by the press.

Although I’m sure the US Government tried to avoid causing any additional pain to the families of those killed in action, I cannot imagine the depth of suffering Donald’s family must have lived through during all the months and years following his death with no sure knowledge of the fate of their beloved only son and brother, nor of his final resting place.

So in the end, we are left with two questions about Floyd’s recollections. The first is to ask who received the injuries to his back like those Floyd remembered and what happened to that soldier?

To answer this question, I researched the Co G Morning Reports and discovered that SSgt. Van S. Wyatt suffered an injury to his back in Germany on December 18, 1944. He was sent to the 106th Division Clearing Station and taken off the duty roster. The next day, on December 19, 1944, Morning Reports show he was sent to the 107th Evacuation Hospital.  Mr. Wyatt survived his injuries and went home, though after so many years we can’t know if it was at the end of the war, or the result of his injuries that day. We will not likely ever know if his injuries were in fact the result of an M88 explosion as Floyd described, but he is the most likely candidate based on the information in the Morning Reports. Van later became President of the 106th Infantry Division Association 1985-1986. He died in 2005 in Benton, Kentucky where he is buried.

The second question: Did Dad pick up Donald’s rifle on his way off the front after sunset on December 18, 1944? Or was it someone else’s firearm?

Donald’s Military Occupation was as a Light Machine Gunner (MOS 604). The M1919 .30 cal machine gun weighed 31 pounds, was about 40” long with 24” of that length comprising the barrel. A 5-man squad was assigned to each M1919, the leader, the gunner, the assistant gunner, and 2 ammo carriers. Bill C. was one of the 5 members of a machine gun squad with Donald and had the same MOS of 604. It was standard issue for the actual gunner to carry an M1911 pistol and the other 4 members of the squad to carry an M1 .30 cal carbine of the type Dad picked up on his way off the front the night of December 18, 1944. There is no separate MOS for the squad member who is the Gunner. It’s not possible to know if Donald was issued an M1 carbine or a M1911 pistol without knowing if he was the gunner or a squad member. This seems impossible to ascertain after so much time.

Originally, during our conversation with Carl Wouters and Doug Miller standing in the woods at the location of the G Co frontline, we all believed Donald was the only G Co soldier Killed In Action before December 18, 1944. However, that clearly is not the case since Ralph Ramsayer who was in the Grosskampenberg common grave with Donald was also from G Co.

Ralph was listed MIA on December 30, 1944 with Dad, Donald, and several other GI’s from G Co. Ralph was a rifleman. He died on December 17, 1944 and it could have been his rifle that Dad picked up on December 18, 1944 in retreat from the hill over Grosskampenberg, Germany. Ralph was born February 8, 1916, so he was 28 years old when he died. He was the only child of Andrew Ray and Leila Clarice Ramsayer. Ralph’s mother died before the war in 1939 at the age of 43.  Ralph’s wife, June, and his father, Andrew, survived him. June died in 1972 at the age of 80.

Were there other soldiers, other than those buried with Donald, who could have been the source of the M1 Dad carried?

I went through the December 30, 1944 list of G Co. MIA’s, which included Donald, Dad, and Ralph. I looked for each man whose fate was unknown to me on the Honor Roll on Carl Wouters website which lists all the soldiers of the 106th that were killed. The comparison of the MIA list of December 30, 1944 with the Honor Roll indicates Donald and Ralph were NOT the only G Co GI’s killed on that hill over Grosskampenberg in the initial German offensive. There were 3 others.

John Pilkington died on December 16, 1944 and is buried in Luxembourg American Cemetery. He was a rifleman.

John Pilkington’s maker at Luxembourg American Cemetery & Memorial

James E. Rogers, of Calhoun Co. Mississippi, died on December 16, 1944 at the age of 19 (DOB 8/21/1925), only 2 months older than Dad. He was a rifleman. James is buried in Shiloh Cemetery in Big Creek, Calhoun Co, Mississippi.

James Rogers marker in Shiloh Cemetery, Big Creek, Calhoun Co., Mississippi

William N. Welker died on December 17, 1944 at the age of 37 (DOB 2/23/1907). He was married. His wife, Dora Mae, was notified of his death by the War Department according to the Greensboro Record of May 22, 1946. Dora Mae had been married once before, and had a child that survived only 3 months. We don’t know if her first husband also died, or if they divorced. William and Dora had no children together before his death in Germany. Dora Mae remarried again after William’s death and survived her 3rd husband, also. Dora Mae died on July 28, 2000 at the age of 89. She had no other children. William’s Military Occupation was listed as basic administration.

William Welker’s Marker in Guilford Memorial Park, Greensboro, Guilford Co., North Carolina

We now know, conclusively, that there were at least 5 men from G Co killed in action on December 16 or 17, 1944. Of the 5 KIA, 3 were riflemen (Ralph Ramseyer, James Rogers, and John Pilkington), 1 was a machine gunner (Donald Schultz) and 1 was in administration (William Welker).

In addition, several of the men listed as wounded in the Morning Reports prior to December 18th were riflemen and may have left their rifles behind as they were evacuated for treatment. Any of the killed or wounded could have been the source for the rifle Dad picked up.

But why does it matter whose rifle it is?

I’ve put a lot of thought into that question since I learned Dad might not have been carrying Donald’s rifle.

I thought, unconsciously, if I could find out whose rifle Dad carried then maybe I’d find answers to bigger questions. Why can’t we see the humanity in each other? Why do we all suffer? Why is there War? Why do the innocent die? Why can’t we see each other’s common humanity?  

After months of reflection, here’s what I have learned after all these years of research into WWII. Human capacity for both selfish evil and selfless good are equally deep. There is no other answer to my larger questions than the knowledge that we each choose our path and we each own the outcome, either for evil or good.

The paths of two soldiers out of millions of Allied soldiers who served, led to the death of one and to the survival of the other. Through my father’s survival, I am connected to this unknown soldier, whoever he is, for all time. My siblings, their children, my daughter, and me, and down the generations that come after us, all owe our very existence to the paths and choices of these two soldiers. Perhaps our connection is to Pfc Donald Schultz; perhaps not. I’ve learned to see the beauty in never knowing the identity of the unknown soldier because ultimately, it doesn’t matter who he was. It only matters that his choices led him down a path that will never end so long as one heir of Pfc Willard H. Keeber lives   

Plaque on the Picnic Table at Warren Co Ohio Veteran’s Memorial donated by the Keeber Family in Memory of Willard H Keeber and Donald Schultz

Through my father I am part of the family whose son carried the rifle that enabled my father’s survival. Donald’s family, and millions of others, lost generations we can never know. Standing in for the children and family Donald and so many others were denied, I have a duty to live a good and just life, and to honor the memory of those boys of the 106th Infantry Division who lost their lives in the battle. In honor of the 106th soldiers that never came home, and the 700 soldiers of the 106th still classified as Missing in Action, I choose to continue to honor the grave of Donald Schultz in their names.

Marker for an unknown soldier at Luxembourg American Memorial and Cemetery

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