Tribute to Colonel (then LTC) Benjamin H. VANDERVOORT. Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Liberation of Goronne.
By Colonel (then 1LT) James J. MEYERS, commanding Company D, 505th PIR, 82nd A/B Div.
While I was creating this webpage honoring Colonel VANDERVOORT. I got an e-mail from Colonel MEYERS family informing me that Colonel James J. MEYERS died on the 17th of December 2002. I want to dedicate this page in memory of Colonel James J. MEYERS, Co D, 505th, 82nd A/B, WWII veteran.
In the early 1990s the United States Army Center for
Leadership at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas selected one or two colonels or lieutenant colonels
from every American War from the Revolution through Vietnam. Two officers
were named for the Civil War (one North, the other South) and World War II (one
Army ground forces, the other Army Air Forces). Colonel Benjamin H.
VANDERVOORT was selected as the outstanding ground battle commander for World
War II. He is honored by a brief biography and several photographs in what is
known as "Leadership Hallway" located on the second floor of Bell
Hall. VANDERVOORT was a truly outstanding battle commander who deserved
In the morning of 5 January 1945, we advanced into Arbrefontaine. The
regiment had outrun a flank unit and after we advanced about a thousand yards we
were ordered to go on the defensive. D company moved into a position along a
line of four houses that extended up the side of a hill from the main road. We
remained in this position from the afternoon of the 5th until the early morning
hours of 7 January.
The evening of 6 January, I reported to battalion headquarters to receive the
attack order for the following day. The battalion, reinforced by tanks and tank
destroyers, would attack with E and F along the Arbrefontaine – Goronne road
that lay in a valley. D company would make a secondary attack to seize the high
ground north of Goronne. The success of the main attack, moving down the valley,
depended upon the secondary attack seizing the high ground overlooking Goronne.
Moreover, we were jumping off about two hours before dawn. In the initial phase,
it was a night attack – a difficult operation to control over a distance of
several thousand yards.
I returned to the company and I issued the attack order to my platoon leaders.
We had a large open area of about three hundred yards to negotiate before
reaching the base of our objective, a very large heavily wooded hill. I
anticipated the Germans would defend along the wood line but I could not be
sure. We would advance in column of platoons with patrols to the front for
security. I closed by instructing both platoon leaders to send runners to
On the morning of the 7th of January, I sent the runners to make certain
both platoon leaders were awake. At the appointed time, company headquarters and
the 1st platoon saddled up and moved to the 2nd platoon’s position. I crossed
the LD on time with the 1st platoon. We advanced under cover of darkness over
open snow covered fields for several hundred yards. Patrols check out the edge
of the wood line and reported the area was clear of enemy. We moved into a
heavily wooded cultivated pine forest with aligned trees tightly spaced in rows
that ran at a tangent to our direction of advance. The darkness and the tree
alignment made it extremely difficult to maintain an accurate compass heading
through the dense woods. I abandoned the use of the compass in favor of moving
uphill toward the high ground that was our objective. As we advanced uphill, we
came upon a firebreak where I found German communication wire and I followed the
wire up hill some five or six hundred yards. As we neared the top of the hill,
we left the cultivated forest and entered a naturally wooded area. The point
signaled a halt and a messenger returned to tell me the point heard sounds of men
snoring. I joined the point, only a few yards ahead, and listened. I could hear
men snoring to our front, flanks and left rear.
Using the men on the point, we organized two teams, one to work each side of the
firebreak. The teams went from foxhole to foxhole awakening the sleeping German
soldiers, disarming them and bringing them to the column where we passed them to
the rear. It was a slow work but all was going well. We had disarmed and
captured about six or eight prisoners in this manner when a shot rang out at the
rear of the column. One of our men was about half asleep on his feet. He looked
up, saw a German POW and in his confusion shot him. All hell broke loose. We
came under heavy small arms fire from what appeared to me to be all directions.
We managed to form what amounted to an elongated perimeter The Germans to our
rear must have panicked for they withdrew, permitting the 2nd platoon under 1SGT
ROGERS to join us as first light broke. With ROGERS on the left and PRICE on the right, we pressed forward
clearing the area of enemy until we reached a second firebreak that ran at right
angles to our direction of attack. At this firebreak we came under heavy machine
gun and rifle fire and the fires of supporting mortars and artillery. Both
ROGERS and PRICE reported they were pinned down at the edge of the firebreak, a
few yards from the defenders. I was only ten or twenty yards to their rear. By
inspection, I was able to determine I was on my objective. The topographical
crest lay only a few yards beyond the German position to our front.
A lieutenant from the division AA battalion crawled up to me and reported
he had a 57mm AT gun and crew with him. He reported his crew had attacked and
destroyed a German machine gun to our rear on the way to our position. I was
unable to reach the battalion on my radio so the AA officer filled me in on the
situation. He reported the battalion was held up in the valley by German
infantry supported by two Tiger tanks. If we could seize the crest of the hill,
he might be able to get a shot into the rear of one or both of the tanks. While
all this was going on, we continued to exchange fires with the defenders at very
close range. The AT officer returned to his crew and minutes later I saw the
slim figure of my battalion commander, Ben VANDERVOORT, crawling up the
firebreak to my position. I briefed him on the situation and I informed him I
could muster a reserve of about ten men from my company headquarters, a mortar
squad and the AT gun crew. He said he had about six men (I assumed his driver,
staff, and security) with him. He said, “Give me about 5 minutes to get in
position, then make a frontal assault with your platoons and company
headquarters. I’ll flank them with the battalion staff.”
Lt. Colonel Benjamin H. VANDERVOORT (Picture courtesy by James J. MEYERS)
We carried out the assault as order. As we overran the position we received a heavy concentration of mortar fire. The AT officer was advancing a foot or two to my left and HARRIS, my runner, was immediately behind me. I saw an orange flash about five yards to my front. The AA officer threw his hand to his forehead and said, “Joe, I’m hit”. He was dead when he hit the ground. HARRIS was on the ground behind me, severely wounded in both legs; I stood there feeling my body to see if I still was in one piece. Except for a multitude of tiny needle like fragment that sprayed my exposed face and hands, I was unharmed. A messenger arrived within minutes to tell me VANDERVOORT was wounded. I assume the same volley of mortar fire that killed the AT officer hit him. By the time I reorganized the company to protect against a possible counterattack. VANDERVOORT was gone and I later learned he lost an eye. During my thirty years of service, I hope I was able to instill in the young troopers who served under me some of the outstanding traits of character and leadership I observed in Colonel VANDERVOORT. He was a true warrior.
The crest of the hill was in our possession and for the first time I gained
radio contact with battalion. I reported
the AT squad was moving the 57mm gun in position for a shot at one of the
Tigers. I was instructed not to fire, a TD was en route to my position. The TD
arrived about two hours later with a captain in command. I pointed out both
Tigers. The nearest one was in a ditch at the side of the road.
The tank’s hull was in defi-
its turret exposed. We were above the
tank and to its right rear. The captain moved the TD into position. He placed
the 57mm nearby and he ordered both guns to bore sight before firing at the
target. This accomplished, he ordered both crews to take cover in foxholes while
he and one 57mm crew member prepared to fire the two guns. As soon, as the guns
fired, the captain and the crew member would take cover in nearby holes. The
Tiger tank with its 88mm gun was a formidable opponent. If you missed a shot at
a Tiger, you were in for big trouble. Earlier in the day, the regiment had lost
several tanks and TDs to the two Tigers in the valley.
A few minutes before the TD was scheduled to fire, a platoon of M4 tanks rolled
in and reported to me. If the TD successfully eliminated the Tiger, I was to
attack down the hill and seize Goronne. After I issued the necessary orders, the
two anti-tank guns fired. After a minute or two, the captain and I inched
forward and took a look. Both weapons scored a clean hit and disabled the Tiger.
We observed the other Tiger withdrawing into Goronne and heading up the
Thier-du-Mont, a large hill mass across the valley in the 508’s sector.
With the tanks in support, we immediately launched an assault down the hill. As
we broke the military crest, we came upon a battery of horse drawn artillery.
The Germans were attempting to hitch up their teams to the howitzers and
withdraw. At a range of about fifty yards, we engaged the battery with both tank
and infantry weapons. It was a turkey shoot. The tanks engaged and disabled the
howitzers and we directed out fire at the men and the animals. It was a wild
scene, horses rearing and plunging, tanks firing and the men shouting as we
overran the position, an aid station and a nearby CP. During this assault, I saw
my first and only enemy soldier killed with cold steel. One of my men jumped in
a foxhole and landed on a German
hiding in the bottom of the hole. The German probably wanted to surrender, but
the trooper’s blood was up. He
pulled his trench knife and killed him with repeated blows. I estimated we took
about fifty to seventy five prisoners, including one German female nurse, plus
horses, howitzers, individual weapons, etc. We didn’t stop to count. We moved
straight for Goronne. As we approached the town, the tank platoon leader got a
report a Tiger was in town and he refused to accompany us. We secured the town
without meeting enemy resistance.
The road into Goronne, a cobblestone street that branched off at right angles from the Arbrefontaine – Vielsalm road, climbed part way up the Thier-du-Mont. About a block off the main road, this street broadened to form a small plaza. Here a farmer and his two attractive young daughters greeted us and invited me to use their home as my CP. The house was a large two stories structure with a barn attached. I accepted the invitation and we moved in after we set up our defensive position. The following morning I received orders to assemble all civilians and move them to the rear where trucks would evacuate them to safety.
Created : November 30, 2002
Updated : August 15, 2005
Copyright © 2001-2002-2003-2004-2005 James J. MEYERS & Eddy LAMBERTY
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