The F Company patrol of 6 October 1944

By Frank W. van Lunteren

 

“Leading a small group of men at night into enemy territory is the most frightening aspect of combat.”

1st Lieutenant Roy M. Hanna, G Company

 

By early October 1944 the need to mount any additional patrols grew as no prisoners had been taken for several days. Colonel Reuben Tucker and his battalion commanders were anxious to find out more about what the Germans were doing and if another surprise attack like the one at Den Heuvel farm was in the making. Word was put out that if small patrols could not take a prisoner, then a squad would be sent out the next night. Did they fail too, then a platoon would go out the following night, and so on.

Finally it got to the point in the evening of October 6 that the entire F Company of Captain Beverly T. Richardson was sent on a mission to capture both prisoners and straighten out the front line. The 2nd Platoon of 1st Lieutenant William L. Watson and 2nd Lieutenant Robert V. Heneisen would be in the lead. Watson was told that “we were to patrol the woods near Wylerbaan.”[1]

 

Sergeant Charles W. Gardner Jr. made the entries for the Regimental S-2 Journal, registering all incoming messages and visits:

 

“2108 – Major Wellems called – Progress on wood at 776614 very slow. [Friendly] Arty fire very poor. Some landed in White Bns area.

2135 – F Co advance still slow.

2140 – No contact with Division by radio.

2215 – Enemy threw up an amber flare, resulted in heavy MG fire.

2220 – F Co is in woods at 775615. Moving on to woods at 777616. (6 casualties)

2300 – Report to Div G-2

2312 – Very strong MG fire at 776616 reported by Second Bn

2330 – Cider radio sent msg to Div G-2

2331 – A Co reports enemy OP reincorced at 778638. Also MG at 779589, patrol had no casualties.

0025 – Casualties being removed from F Cos position: 2 KIA, 7 WIA.”[2]

 

In his report of 2300 hours to the Intelligence Branch of Division Headquarters, Captain Fordyce Gorham wrote about the F Company patrol:

 

“2215 – F Co is in woods at (775615). Moving out to woods at (775575). Checked all houses and holes.”

 

First Lieutenant Chester A. Garrison, the 2nd Battalion S-2 officer, wrote in the Battalion Unit Journal:

 

“Regiment ordered a platoon attack (F Co.) into woods to front so as to push enemy line back to dyke to straighten out [the] regimental front. G Co. supposed to move in from the right. The platoon was able to get to the location; however it proved advisable to pull it back to the original as the enemy was too firmly entrenched with good troops. There was a considerable exchange of fire. Casualties = 5 evacuated, 4 believed K.I.A., 1 M.I.A., Lts. Watson and Heneisen were wounded.”[3]

 

As F Company moved toward the woods, Corporal Richard H. Gentzel from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and Private William L. Sandoval from Illinois were most likely acting as lead scouts. Gentzel was a veteran paratrooper of the invasions of Sicily and Italy and had been an original F Company member. They were both killed and their bodies have not been found or identified over 64 years laters. Both names are listed on the Wall of Missing at the American Cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands. Contrary to the report of Garrison, Lieutenant Heneisen was killed and received a field grave in the Ooijpolder along with Private First Class William K. Pierce. Both were later reinterred at the American Cemetery in Neuville, Belgium. Private Ray D. Wilbanks died the same night of his sustained wounds and received also a field grave before he was reburied in his home state Georgia.

First Lieutenant Watson was in the lead as they entered a wooded area. “We headed into these thick woods, and went to jump off this big levee that came right along those woods, when machine gun fire broke out. I was hit just before that, but remember a huge amount of soldiers lying along those woods before they took me back.

 I was leading the men when I was hit with artillery shell fragments that tore into my right leg fracturing my femur. I could see them across the levy, not sure if they were German’s or ours. I recall hearing that they had machine gun nest all over, and they were some elite German force [fallschirmjägers – the German equivalent of the American airborne forces] Medics came and gave me morphine, then I was transported behind the lines, and sent to hospital in Brussels. From there I was in several hospitals in a body cast almost two years in the States.”[4]

 

It was not until the next day, October 7, that the full extent of the casualties became clear to the regimental commander. Lieutenant Garrison noted down that day:

 

“F. Co. was [busy?] until 16.:30 getting [the] situation back to normal. In return, it received a heavy pounding of artillery fire all day. The F Co. C.P. is fortunately situated in a well-constructed cellar as the walls of the house were completely knocked down from the encounter. Colonel Tucker was in area during the afternoon. Everyone is concerned over last night’s losses.”[5]

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The author would like to thank Dennis Hermsen for bringing him into contact with Mrs. Karen Dugan, niece of the late Dick Gentzel who was killed on the patrol. Karen interviewed Lieutenant William L. Watson, the platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, F Company in 1944.

 

©2008-2009 by Frank van Lunteren


 

[1] William L. Watson interview with Karen Dugan, 30 December 2008.

[2] S-2 Unit Journal of the 504th Parachute Infantry for the Holland Campaign. L-455, entry 427, Records Group 407, National Archives, College Park, M.D. A copy of this document was kindly provided to the author by William Pitt, son of the late 1st Lieutenant Thomas F. Pitt, 3rd Battalion S-3 officer.

[3] Chester A. Garrison, Unit Journal of the 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry, The James M.

Gavin Papers, Box 12, Folder “Letters to and from 82nd Vets on airborne operations in Holland, September

1944,” USAMHI.

[4] Watson interview with Karen Dugan, 30 December 2008.

[5] Garrison, Unit Journal of the 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry.

 

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