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Returning wedding photos to family of KIA German after 70 years


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This is one of the more hardcore cases I worked on: I interviewed 517th veteran Howard Hensleigh in about 2009. At the time he told me about an ambush in the southern France Alps during which two of his men were killed, and the rest escaped. He returned to the place with more men on the same day, this time the Americans ambushing the Germans from behind. In the fight, Hensleigh personaly killed a German NCO. On the body he found several photos, including the NCOs wedding photos. In 2009 Hensleigh still had the photos in his wartime photoalbum.

I decided to try to find out who the KIA German was and contact his family. All I had to work on was the photographers stamp on some of the photos, from Elwangen an der Jagst. I sent letters to the photographer, that still exists, and to the town hall. The photographer replied that all their archives had been destroyed by a flood, while the town hall said they didnt recognise the soldier.

I then decided to find out if any Germans listed as coming from Elwangen were known to have died in southern France where the ambush occured. I found that a Georg Rieck had a potentially matching date and location of death. I once again contacted the town hall asking if the man on the wedding photos could be Georg Rieck. I will let this newsreport tell the rest of the story (as you will see, they didnt report my investigation method how it really happened, making it all sound simpler than it was):

 

 

 

Jean-Loup

http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/ : my book about the paratroopers of the 509th, 517th, 551st and 1st SSF during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. Oral history and battlefield archeology.

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Great story. I'm glad Howard was the one that got to come home.

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Very nice story, thanks for sharing.

 

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Well done. It's interesting for a soldier to take something like that, whereas Lugers, medals, helmets, etc are your more common souvenirs. Almost wonder if he didn't feel like the guy's wedding pictures were important enough to not let them rot away.

 

Wish the reporters would have let him tell his whole story!

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Rieck's diary was also found on his body. Hensleigh said he thought he still had it in 2009, but could not longer find it. I did manage to find a partial retranscription of it in the 517th Archives at NARA though. The last entry Rieck put in says something like "Ambushed Americans, Two killed, one POW". It also mentions a soldier being punnished for sleeping on duty... and this soldier is one of the ones who was captured by the Americans. Presumably he wasnt to happy of the punishement he had been given :)

I also managed to find an account written by the German machine gunner who shot the two Americans in the initial ambush.

In all, I managed to reconstruct these two successive ambushes in surprising detail thanks to the various documents that were written and that happened to be preserved.

 

JL

http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/ : my book about the paratroopers of the 509th, 517th, 551st and 1st SSF during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. Oral history and battlefield archeology.

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Jean-Loup:

 

Excellent work, and a story that was well worth being preserved and told.

 

I find it interesting that the US TV news story neglected to mention that Hensleigh's platoon had been ambushed by the same Germans earlier and lost 2 men in that fight. Of course, even if that had not occurred Hensleigh's duty required that he attack the Germans just as the Germans had their own duty.

 

I am not knowledgeable on German decorations. What are the badges being worn by the German NCO in the photo?

 

Thanks for bringing this story to our attention.

 

Regards,

Charlie

 

 

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Looks like a wound badge, assault badge, and iron cross 2nd class ribbon?

Looking for the following:

452nd and 447th Bomb Group items

Anything 12th Armored- especially uniforms

155th Assault Helicopter Company, Camp Coryell, or Ban Me Thuot Vietnam items[/center]


WWII US Navy Uniforms from the Battle Off Samar: USS Johnston DD-557, USS Hoel DD-553, USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413, USS Heermann DD-532, USS Dennis DE-405, USS John C. Butler DE-339, USS Raymond DE-341, USS Fanshaw Bay St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay...


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"I find it interesting that the US TV news story neglected to mention that Hensleigh's platoon had been ambushed by the same Germans earlier and lost 2 men in that fight."

 

As usual they had to make a long story fit into a two minute newsreport. They also got Rieck's name wrong, calling him Reick, and also got my name wrong, thinking that Loup is my family name...

One of the two Americans, just like Rieck, had just had a child, who he never saw.

 

The decorations mentionned above by Garandomatic are indeed correct. This German was a hardcore NCO who had been in Infanterie Division 34 in Russia for years. A very experienced soldier for sure. Rieck had taken over the MG after one of his soldiers, who had killed the two americans in the first ambush, had been wounded. As Hensleigh once said, "if we had met in different circumstances, we could have been friends."

 

JL

http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/ : my book about the paratroopers of the 509th, 517th, 551st and 1st SSF during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. Oral history and battlefield archeology.

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Interesting story.

 

Thanks for posting.

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Always interested in the 166th Infantry, 42nd Division, A.E.F.

Quality WW1 studio portraits and real photo postcards of Distinguished Service Cross recipients; showing steel helmets; or other interesting content.

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Very interesting story. Great research on getting them back. That diary entry from that same day is very important IMO, really shows both sides of things.

Collecting WWI 26th Division Machine Gun and Infantry related Helmets, Equipment, Groupings, Photos and Dog Tags!


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Thank you for going through the trouble to track this German soldier down. Many of us are still tainted by the propaganda of "we are good and they are bad". All soldiers who serve their country in good faith are honorable, regardless of their nations intentions.

Without data, your just another person with an opinion...................

 

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Great story, and good to see you over here Jean-Loup

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"Great story, and good to see you over here Jean-Loup"

 

Thanks mate. I post here every now and then, but as you know I have my habits down at the WAF ;)

 

JL

http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/ : my book about the paratroopers of the 509th, 517th, 551st and 1st SSF during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. Oral history and battlefield archeology.

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Great story. I'm glad Howard was the one that got to come home.

 

 

As Hensleigh once said, "if we had met in different circumstances, we could have been friends."

 

JL

 

 

Nice story. It's a shame that both men were not able to survive the war.

 

...Kat

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If you enjoyed the clip I posted, you should also watch this one, also concerning the Operation Dragoon area in southern France. In this case it wasnt items being returned to the families, but the actual bodies of their missing loved ones:

http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/ : my book about the paratroopers of the 509th, 517th, 551st and 1st SSF during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. Oral history and battlefield archeology.

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