(Picture Courtesy of Jeroen Horbach)
Medals and Badges Pfc. Albert E. Kuzel probably earned
Albert E. Kuzel was born on September 26, 1918 in Minnesota. His parents are Mr. Joseph F. and Mrs. Annie Kuzel and he had 3 brothers - Frank, Thomas and Laurence. Albert Kuzel grew up in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, was never married and had no children. He entered the service on April 4, 1942 and became part of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
In February 1942, the 16th Infantry Regiment (IR) left its permanent Camp at Fort Deven, Mass., for 4 months of maneuvers training at Camp Blanding, Florida. Following these maneuvers, the 16th IR spent approximately a month at Fort Benning, Georgia, in garrison, where normal training activities were carried on; and near the end of June, proceeded to the staging Area at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
On June 30, 1942, Company E, among the first group in the Division to head overseas, proceeded to New York City and loaded on Army Transport number 150 at 20.00 Hours. The ships name was ‘The Duchess of Bedford', affectionately referred to by the men in the Company as “The Dirty Duchess”.
The rather large convoy suffered no accidents; there was gun drill and fire drill and boat drill; the usual number of men were sea sick, the usual number of small fortunes were won and lost, and on July 12, 1942, the “Dirty Duchess” steamed into the British port of Liverpool. Debarkation was carried out the next day - E Company moved by motor and marching to Tidworth Barracks near Salsbury, England. In August and September there was a full training schedule, inspections, night problems, and long hikes through picturesque countryside, and through the not so picturesque rain and fog. But there were weekends in London, and liberal passes in the evenings to the small towns around Tidworth.
In late September 1942, Company E left for Avnesbury, Scotland, and boarded the British transport “Reina Del Pacificio”, for training on the River Clyde. After more training on the “Orbita” and duties in the harbor on the Clyde Bank, on October 26, Company E, aboard Ship L-12, left the Scottish port for a landing operation, destination unknown. As the convoy steamed past the straits of Gibraltar and headed for the “Dark Continent”, the men realized that they were part of the Allied Invasion of German held North Africa. While still at sea, two air attacks were beaten off, and one German submarine sunk.
Then at 11.00 Hours , November 8, 1942, the landing was made on Arzew Beach, without casualties, and the Company moved inland over 15 miles of sand to bivouac at Logrande. On November 9, Company E took up the advance guard for the Battalion's march on Oran. The first sign of the Germans came at 23.05 Hours, when a flare was sighted and 75mm artillery fire began falling to their rear. The advance continued, and at 23.15 Hours, the Germans opened up with machine gun and rifle fire, wounding 3 men in the point. At 23.35 Hours, as E Company deployed to meet this resistance, Pfc Smith became the first man in Company E to die, when he was killed by German fire as he emptied his automatic rifle into the German line. Another bad piece of luck occurred immediately afterwards; German shell fire ripped into a high-tension wire overhead, which fell on and killed 3 men, in addition to lighting up the whole area and disclosing the disposition of every man. The Battalion formed a new line, and the next day drove on to Oran, which surrendered.
Road blocks and pickets were set up and operated, and raids were carried out for Nazi sympathizers. Awards were presented; a ceremonial parade held with units of the French Army, the Company moved to Valmy, Algeria to form a security guard for an airbase. The men got their first look at foreign women (Arabs, who were off limits, and French, who weren't), there was plenty to drink, souvenirs to buy, and the amazing filth and ability to steal of the Arabs was a source of constant wonder. The first Christmas away from home; wading knee deep mud to the kitchen in anticipation of a promised turkey dinner with “all the trimmins”, they were greeted with cold salmon. The howls of rage were loud and long. The turkey came three days later.
The end of January 1943, found Kuzel's Company E back in combat near Rebaa, Tunisia, and there were skirmishes and patrols for a month, leading up to a defensive position at Kasserine Pass. The Germans attempted to break through, they were stopped and the Battalion pulled back for a rest, when the Germans struck again, this time with all they had. The Battalion was thrown back into the defense, and though subjected to heavy 88mm and tank fire, assisted in completely routing the Germans and practically annihilating the 10th Panzer Division. The 2nd Battalion, 16th IR received the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for their actions at Kasserine.
Members of the 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, marching through the Kasserine Pass, on to Farriana on February 26, 1943
Continuing to El Guettar and Beja, Companies E and F made the famous bayonet charge to take Hill 606, driving the Germans from dug in positions with hand grenades, and stopping only when the Company Commander and one platoon were captured. In the attack of Hill 374, Lt. General McNair, then Army Ground Force Commander, was injured while in Kuzel's Company E Area, which was being subjected to heavy shelling. Pfc. Kuzel's 2nd Battalion, 16th IR received a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at Beja.
When the last of the Italians and Germans gave up on May 8, Company E was in Mateur, but immediately returned to Arzew Beach, the site of their original landing and began practicing beach landings again, going over the side by means of nets. The weather was murderous. After a month of this, the U.S.S. Thurston carried them to Staoeuli, near Algiers for a period of hikes, inspections, and British extended order drill. It was still hot, but here there were passes to Algiers, where there was ice cream, beer, and not a little excitement, if you ventured into the Arab quarter after dark.
In July 1943 came the invasion of Sicily (Italy), and Albert Kuzel's Company E hit the beach at Gela at 02.00 Hours, July 10, part of the first battalion landed. The assistance promised in the form of planes and paratroopers failed to materialize, so sheer courage was all that helped the Company storm the beaches through German mine fields, artillery, and small arms fire, and gain the high ground beyond. The foot troops drove forward for several miles, and before any support could be landed behind them, the Germans counterattacked, and heavily; with two Battalions of tanks, part of which raced down the beaches to come behind them. For the action that followed, the Battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation for heroic action. With some assistance from the Naval guns offshore, a few anti-tank guns, and skillful handling of the bazookas by men who had the courage to let the tanks pass over them in a foxhole, then rise and shoot the tank from the rear, the overwhelming odds of the Germans were soon diminished and the attack routed.
The battle for Sicily lasted 28 days, but it was done so quickly by maintaining a killing pace. They marched at night and fought all day, over torturous terrain, in scorching weather. Chow and ammunition were brought up by donkey, if at all. The fighting was sporadic, but bitter, and consisted mostly of skirmishes for road centers. Kuzel's Company E and the rest of the second Battalion took Troina after 2 other units had tried and failed; they took Nicosia and Randazzo, which was the last line of defense of the faltering Germans. Air power had helped, as in the attack on Troina when B-26's and P-51's softened up the objective in front of the troops, but Sicily was won principally by the dough's literally marching the shoes off their feet.
US troops in Sicily 1943
With the battle over, Kuzel's Company E took up life in pup tents at Licata, near Palma, Sicily, and began to inspect the surroundings, which were extremely inauspicious. The natives were dirty and thieving, the country devoted mostly to raising cattle and horses, and the one bright spot in the picture, were the excellent wineries, and vineyards, often 50 or 60 acres in extent. There was training and daily hikes, three retreat parades weekly, with movies at night and Company parties were red Sicilian wine flowed freely. The high spot was the visit of Bob Hope and his troupe in August 1943.
On October 21, 1943, the HMS Maloja was boarded, and until two days after she sailed, there was considerable conjecture as to the destination; some thought it would be to invade Italy, some expected to return to the States. But just over a year after leaving England, it was Liverpool again, with a British band playing a welcome. Company E moved into Nissen huts at Walditch, a half mile from the Channel, near Bridport, for the winter. There were hikes and films, rain, MP detail in town, liberal passes, the people were friendly, the First Sgt. got married, there was turkey on Turkey Day and again on Christmas in the big Battalion mess hall, with ice cream and beer besides. There was cool weather, firing on Symondsbury and Eype Down ranges, a lecture on “What We Will Find in Europe”, training in street fighting in a bombed out section of the port town of Weymouth, church on Sundays in Bridport; in short, the men found England the best place to be next to home. In January 1944, British General Montgomery reviewed the troops on the cricket field at Bridport, and told them that of all the American Divisions he'd seen, he'd rather fight with the 1st US Division.
In February 1944, they went 86 miles by motor to Barnstable for assault team training, amphibious operations, attacks on fortified positions, boat landings and obstacle courses. On February 24 there was a beach landing by the entire Regiment. In March, the Company boarded the U.S.S. Henrico at Weymouth for another practice landing and attack inland. The bright spot in this picture was the chow served by the Navy, which was excellent.
Back in Walditch, James Cagney and cast entertained with “Keep ‘Em Rolling”. A Battalion rifle match was won by Kuzel's Company E and on April 2, General Eisenhower came around to inspect, present awards and made a speech. Any illusions of returning to the States were dispelled when he said, “The First Division will be one of the last to go home. If nothing else, I'll just keep you around for good luck.” From this time on the Division was alerted for the invasion of the continent. They went to Martinstown to train, the swift water there, boarded the U.S.S. Henrico, and assaulted “Able Red” Beach once, then again. General Heubner, the Division Commander, made a speech. Kuzel's Company was organized into 5 assault sections and trained that way, each section equipped with flame throwers, and bangalore torpedoes, and with its own base of fire.
On June 1, 1944, they boarded the U.S.S. Henrico again, and when it sailed out from Weymouth harbor on June 5, D-Day and H-Hour were announced. On June 6, at 03.30 Hours Companies E and F were called to debarkation stations and at 04.15 Hours were lowered in LCVPs, continuing to rendezvous until after 06.00 Hours. During the Naval bombardment a few German planes dropped long-burning flares over these LCVPs. To their front, the assault companies observed the LCTs (rockets) moving into firing position. Guide craft and tank ships were out in front as well as support boats. One mile off shore, the LCVPs passed several men tossed about in the rough sea, supported in life belts and in small rubber rafts. It was first believed these men, increasing in number in the water, were shot-down airmen, but before long they were recognized as DD tank men. Their tanks had been sunk or swamped.
Between 10 and 15 minutes off shore the LCVPs' personnel observed the rocket ships opening up with thousands of rockets. According to plan, these three rocket ships were to take position in boat lanes and deliver fire at approximately H-3 minutes on a German strongpoint in the vicinity of Colleville sur Mer when the leading wave was 500 yards off shore. They fired off schedule.
The roughness of the sea, the dense smoke along the beach and some mist at sea contributed to Pfc. Kuzel's E Company coming in at the wrong place and becoming dispersed over a wide area (1/Sgt. Lawrence J. Fitzsimmons, T/Sgt. Joseph A. Toth, and T/Sgt. Calvin L. Ellis). The men noted that the navy crew seemed green and that when fired upon, they would not get to their guns. When at last ordered to get to the guns, they fired wildly and would not expose themselves. In T/Sgt. Ellis' boat, the coxswain didn't know where to go and asked T/Sgt. Ellis: “What is the objective?” T/Sgt. Ellis pointed it out and then noted he was moving too far right. He said: “Bear left!” He then told the coxswain he was bearing too far left, but the man kept on the same course.
At 500 to 600 yards offshore, the LCVPs subjected to concentrated German AT and small arms fire, continued through a thick barrage of mortar, artillery, and automatic-weapon fire. The boats began stringing out, and finally lost one another. All were supposed to guide on the CP boat, but that boat was bearing too far left and the others realized it (1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons). The men kept yelling at the coxswain: “You're going left”. He ignored them and kept on the same course.
Pfc. Kuzel's Company E in the assault wave, landed on Easy Red Beach at 06.45 Hours in the face of murderous fire. Company E was scheduled to land on the right half of EASY RED and Company F on the left half of EASY RED, but most of Company E landed to the left of the original landing point. The CP boat landed far left; near the 3rd Battalion, 16th IR's sector. The only boats the CP men could then see were No. 2 and 3, which were a little to their right (1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons). T/Sgt. Ellis saw one other Company boat come in about 300 yards from him; that was all. Perhaps 800 yards separated the two flanks. The men were subjected to MG and AT fire as they waded toward shore. An LCVP received a direct hit from an AT gun, burst into flames, and exploded. There were no men aboard. Three German Strongpoints, WN 60, WN 61 and WN 62, which were to have been bombed, shelled, and wiped out by the Air Force, Navy and rocket guns, were in action. There were no DD tanks to cover the advance of the assault companies. There were no bomb craters on the beach for the men to find cover in from enemy fire. Intense fire concentrated on the group; several men struck underwater mines and were blown out of the sea. Beach obstacles were numerous. There were hedgehogs, tetrahedrons, element C, log ramps, curved rails and stakes. A hasty firing line was built up along the pile of shale. Pfc. Kuzel's Company E discovered most of their weapons were jammed with sand. Personnel stripped, cleaned weapons and German guns were brought under small arms fire.
Landing on Omaha Beach - EASY RED
The CP boat took its heaviest losses at that moment and only 12 of 36 men got to the beach. The rest got it in the water, as they waded in from a sandbar, or were hit as they returned to drag in the wounded. Section No. 1, however, didn't lose a man in the water: the fire against the section was small and erratic (T/Sgt. Phillip Streczyk). T/Sgt. Toth's No. 2 Section was dropped in water over its head, the coxswain having started shying off as he drew into the beach. More than half of the men came in swimming; some, it was believed, were carried down by the weight of their equipment (T/Sgt. Toth). On the beach, the men of Company E noted only other infantrymen. A few minutes later, the men of Company E saw the first engineers arrive and set to work.
Stretching ahead of E Company were 300 yards of sand, and then a steep hill. Some of the men froze on the beach, wretched with seasickness and fear, refusing to move. Most of the survivors toiled painfully to the foot of the hill where the Germans might well have found and destroyed them since they had no fire power (1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons). The seasoned men among them knew that they had to move, but even they felt their strength and will fading. The fire was hot; their loads were heavy. The natural inclination was to stay there (1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons and T/Sgt. Ellis). They went on a few feet and then flopped again. The tide came racing in behind them and pushed them on. 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons saw two of his men (Pvt. Spencer and Pvt. Walch) take a few strides, flop down and then be blown bodily into the air by mines buried on the beach. Both were killed.
Landing on Omaha Beach - EASY RED
It took one hour to get the survivors across the sand and to the foot of the hill. They went one at a time, figuring that they would be less of a target this way. German riflemen were firing at them from the brow of the hill and they were getting automatic fire from both flanks along the beach. T/Sgt. Ellis saw four German riflemen fire at his men from atop the hill and then move along it in silhouette. He tried to get some fire on them but discovered that every weapon in his section was out of action. The riflemen disappeared suddenly as if the ground had swallowed them and he figured that they had dropped into an emplacement.
T/Sgt. Streczyk's No. 1 Section came in exactly where Company F was supposed to land. Streczyk got 32 men onto the sands, took 12 casualties mostly from bullet fire in getting across the beach, and continued onward immediately with 20 men. The German Strongpoint WN 61 (covering EXIT 3 on the eastern side) when the debouchments took place was to the party's immediate right, and from this, they were drawing most of the fire. Dead ahead of them was a small ravine and their approach was direct toward it. This put them a little to the left of the first line of emplacements serving as an outwork of the Strongpoint. A communications trench led back from the emplacements. Mines were thickly sown through this area. German MGs covered this path which led past the ruins of a house. The party moved rapidly up the draw, then went right and slightly up the hill in such a way that they emerged on the rear of the outwork before the Germans had noted the movement (T/Sgt. Streczyk). The 14 Germans inside the work were caught flat-footed. The party attacked them with grenades and bazookas and they made a futile attempt to reply with grenades: several were killed, two were captured and the others got away to the Strongpoint.
The party then attacked the Strongpoint from the rear, and had its rearward exit covered before a shot was fired. From the cover of an outer trench, they engaged it with grenades. The German fire gradually fell off as the occupants went to cover, but there was no sign of a surrender. For 4 ½ hours, T/Sgt. Streczyk's men stayed there, keeping this point neutralized and thereby greatly assisting the movements of Company G and of other units across the beach. Yet they did not feel strong enough to assault it directly and under the conditions in which the men were employed, the T/Sgt. Streczyk party was wholly scattered with each man fighting his own battle and doing what he could to harass the Germans. In this time they took 21 prisoners and left an equal number of German dead behind without themselves losing one man. They had kept under cover in the outworks, worked in small groups through the trenches and gradually reduced the German strength so that the Strongpoint was not capable of any strong action. It had become “contained”.
Meanwhile, on the beach the men were still pinned down by German fire. A 7 yard beachhead was established. By this time the beachhead was blocked by the crowding of personnel onto the 7 yard penetration. Shoulder to shoulder the men lay prone on the pebbles, stone and shale; some of the personnel on the beach laid in a prone position with bodies half inserted in the water. Landing craft discharged more troops onto the 7 yard beachhead. The third wave, fourth wave, and fifth wave found the first wave assault infantry trapped on the beach. The 7 yard beachhead, jammed with personnel, remained under constant German artillery, mortar, AT, MG, and sniper fire. Casualties mounted with each succeeding wave. The Medical Detachment, coming in on the 4th wave, took enough casualties that its own wounded monopolized its attention (Lt. Thad A. Shaw, T/Sgt. Ellis).
Lt. Shaw was in a party that arrived 2 hours later than the main body. The boat was hit by 3 artillery shells when 400 yards from shore. Three men were killed and 12 wounded; the engine was destroyed. The boat began to drift. There was a tank in the LCT. As the boat drifted, the tanker trained his 75 on the German artillery piece which had put them under fire; he had the good luck to demolish it on the first round. For 2 hours the boat drifted and finally grounded on the rocks, near the beach. Lt. Shaw had the ramp lowered. He hit the water with two other men, and one was immediately felled by machine gun fire. Lt. Shaw then ordered the men to unload on the other side of the boat and they waded in, 66 men all told. The fire on the 2nd Battalion beach was still heavy. So they found a section of scaling ladder and went on up the cliff; the 66 men using one 5-foot section of ladder as it was needed. They found German mines all along the ledges, but were able to avoid them.
T/Sgt. Streczyk's men had blown the wire confronting the ravine just after landing. There was thus a convenient avenue for the advance of other troops. 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons, who had landed well over to the left, came up shortly after 11.00 Hours and learned about the breach. The Company Commander, Capt. Edward F. Wozenski, then decided to move laterally along the beach toward T/Sgt. Streczyk and he and 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons set to work rounding up the men. They could only get about 1 ½ squads together. Capt. Wozenski then tried to get smoke laid on the beach to cover the movement to the right but this was unavailing. The party then moved on along the beach.
Uniform and equipment of an infantrist
(Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
No. 1 Section had already quit the ground around the German Strongpoint and gone on inland when Capt. Wozenski's group came to the route which they had taken up the hill. At the rear of the German Strongpoint, they ran into scattered German riflemen and some machine gun fire but the German resistance was now disorganized. They went on. About 12.00 Hours, Capt. Wozenski halted his party about 1000 yards of south Exit 3. He sent 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons back to the beach to look for more of the Company. 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons met T/Sgt. Toth and 7 men coming through the mine field. Other small groups were met and collected farther back. The Capt. Wozenski group had caught up with the T/Sgt. Streczyk party in the interim and with the fresh men brought in by 1/Sgt. Fitzsimmons, the Company numbered 60 men. They organized in two platoons and continued to sweep toward Colleville sur Mer where they went into position on the right of Company G.
Patrols were pushed out to the front until the 1st Battalion took over. Orders from Battalion via runner, for Company E to move east toward Colleville sur Mer, were immediately carried through. The Company moved east, then south along road towards town. German snipers were active, but Pfc. Kuzel's Company continued. Heavy German artillery fire registered on the Company, but suffered no casualties. Upon Battalion order, the Company, 60 men in strength, swept the woods and fields west of Colleville Road and proceeded to the Colleville-St. Laurent Road. The Company advanced without serious opposition, but the small Headquarters group, following the deployed company, was repeatedly pinned down by MG and sniper fire. It was evident that the Germans fired only on small groups.
Meanwhile Company G had moved up to Colleville sur Mer and occupied the west half of the town after a fire fight. Company E, among them Pfc. Kuzel, with an attachment of one section of Company H HMGs, was given a mission of building up a Battalion line by covering Company G's right flank which was exposed to German MGs and machine pistols. Two skeleton sections of Company E under Lt. Huch took positions on Company G's right, with the Germans to the front, amongst and to the rear of the troops. Lt. Huch and the men held ground, relieving German pressure on Company G's right, and finally established a Battalion line. The men took and held their objective, which provided the only exit from the beach that the entire Fifth Corps had for 48 hours.
Company E lost 105 men on D-day, and “only” 1 of these was lost during the movement inland. Most of the others were lost in the water: many of the wounded crawled to the edge of the sand, fell exhausted, and were there caught by the tide. In trying to pull these men in, the able-bodied were caught by German fire and some of these wounded also died from drowning.
In the days after D-day t he 2nd Battalion broke through to Colleville sur Mer, advanced to Vilday, and on June 10 to Cormolain, where the kitchen came up, killed a cow and cooked steaks. The Company remained here for about a month, re-organized, was given re-inforcements and a chance to clean up. But the Germans still interfered with sleeping by crawling down the hedgerows near the positions and firing machine guns all night. Pfc. Albert E. Kuzel was Killed in Action on July 10, 1944, in Caumont near Cormolain (France) as a result of shrapnel wounds of the right chest. At the time of his death Pfc. Kuzel carried with him 1 prayer book, 2 rosaries, 1 lighter, 7 letters, 1 folder with pictures, 1 aluminum star, 1 Sidney wrist watch, 3 Catholic medals, 1 billfold with pictures, 50 Francs, 15 souvenir coins, 1 Shaeffer pen and pencil set, 1 Good Conduct ribbon, 3 souvenir banknotes, 4 Gillette blue blades, 1 ETO ribbon with 3 Battle Stars and 1 fountain pen. Pfc. Kuzel was buried at 18.00 Hours on July 11, 1944, on the St. Laurent sur Mer Military Cemetery. He was buried in fatigues and his wool OD uniform.
Adoptant of Pfc. Kuzel's grave, Jeroen Horbach, in Cormolain (France)
(Picture Courtesy of Jeroen Horbach)
Adoptant of Pfc. Kuzel's grave, Jeroen Horbach, in Caumont (France)
(Picture Courtesy of Jeroen Horbach)
In early 1947 Albert's father Joseph wrote to the Military authorities: “We would like to have our son interred in a Catholic Cemetery. If the Cemetery at St. Laurent, France is to be discontinued and the remains changed to another overseas cemetery, we would like to have the Catholic Rites at the funeral. If possible, we would like a picture of the cemetery.” The flag was sent to Pfc. Kuzel's parents on February 2, 1949.
1st Infantry Division monument in Normandy, France.
(Pictures Courtesy of Jeroen Horbach)
“Only one man who came overseas with Company E originally is still [on VE-day] with the organization, but all those who are or have ever been a part of it, have a right to be proud”.
Leonard E. Richardson
(1st Lt., 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division)
Jeroen Horbach next to Pfc. Albert E. Kuzel's grave
(Picture Courtesy of Jeroen Horbach)
Pfc. Albert E. Kuzel's final resting place is, together with 9,387 brothers in arms, the Normandy American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Plot J, Row 9, Grave 20.
The adoptant of Private First Class Albert E. Kuzel's grave, Jeroen Horbach, is searching for more information about Pfc. Albert E. Kuzel. Every kind of information is more than welcome. You can contact Jeroen at: email@example.com
T/Sgt. Calvin L. Ellis - Company E, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
1/Sgt. Lawrence J. Fitzsimmons - Company E, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
1st Lt. Leonard E. Richardson - 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Lt. Thad A. Shaw - Company E, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
T/Sgt. Phillip Streczyk - Company E, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
T/Sgt. Joseph A. Toth - Company E, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division