Biography of Lamoine "Frank'' Olsen

Col, Plt Sgt, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, Battle of the Bulge, Huertgen Forest, USA

Summarized in part from an article of the Morning Record

     Lamoine Olsen, known to his friends as Frank Olsen, joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1941 prior to America's entry into World War II. His friends had joined and jobs were hard to come by in Union City, where he had lived since his family moved there from South Dakota the year before. 

     The 112th Infantry Regiment was inducted into Federal Service on 17 February 1941 at Kane, Pennsylvania, and moved to the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation ten days later. It then moved, together with its parent 28th Division, through Camp Livingston, Louisianna, Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida, and Camp Pickett, Virginia in preparation for over seas duties.  It moved to Camp Miles Standish, Massachussetts on 28 September 1943 and spent some ten days further in preparation and loading. It departed Boston for Europe on October 8, 1943. It arrived in England ten days later.

     The 28th Division was on reserve on D-Day in England. Mr. Olsen, a Platoon Sergeant at the time, was scared stiff with uncertainty at what wouyld come. Eventually, the 112th boarded ship and crossed the channel.

     Although the entire regiment would not be ashore till D+46, July 22, 1944, the first elements ashore went right into combat trying to breakout of the Normandy Beachhead.  Platoon Sergeant Olsen first entered combat with his unit in the vicinity of St. Lo.

     The 28th Division entered combat in the hedgerows North and West of St. Lo. The hedgerows were thick growth on embankments which had built up over the centuries as Norman farmers moved rocks and rubbish to the edges of their fields.  Battles would be fought from one small field to th next, each a natural fortress.

     The 28th advanced slowy against stiff opposition. It took Percy on August 1st, 1944. On August 4th, Platoon Sergeant Olsen, like many of his comrades that day, was wounded by German machine gun fire while attacking through the hedgerows.

     His wounds were not life threatening. Bullets lightly wounded his body and thumb. Others shattered his rifle, driving wood shrapnel into him.  The wound was what he calls a million dollar wound, one that is not serious but takes you out of combat.

     Six days later the Division took Gathemo, and on the twelfth its Division Commander was killed.  The 28th Division drove on through France, moving through Paris on August 29th and on into Belgium.  All of this, however, was unknown to Sgt. Olsen, who was recovering from his wounds in the rear.

     The 112th Regiment with the 28th Division crossed into Belgium on 7 September, 1944 and into Holland the next day. Three days later the unit moved into Germany. The 28h Division, at times with its Regiments working as part of other Divisions, then threw itself against the West Wall, the German fortifications along its Western Border.

     After a brief rest, the Division renewed is attack on October 8, 1944.  Mr. Olsen returned to the Division as it moved into the Huertgen Forest, a battle infamous for its terrible casualties and what Sergeant Olsen would call, the "worst hell of all.''

     "I don't remember how many days the battle lasted but we went for days without sleep or eating, and it was cold and wet. Going through the Forest was tough because artillery, both German and American, had blown treetops off and made so much rubble that the only way we could move a lot of the time was by crawling underneath and over and through some of the treetops."

    At times the battle was close quarters, "we sometimes crawled right on top of Germans in their holes. Whoever shot first was the one that got to see the sun come up in the morning."

     The 28th Division fought back and forth in the Forest. gaining and then losing ground repeatedly. By the time Mr. Olsen's men reached Schmidt, which he described as a little village, the unit had "lost so many men that we were all mixed up with other units of our battalion. Wherever we would meet, we would just band together and try to hang on.''

     The American forces would take Schmidt only to be surrounded and forced to withdraw through the Germans. Then they would be ordered back to the attack.  Schmidt changed hands several times. "That went on so long that no matter where you looked, there were bodies (of Germans and Americans) lying all over."

     At one point in the battle, Olsen and about nine other men were positioned in a stone house when a German tank rammed into a wall of the building.

     "I jumped back just in time before the wall came crashing in on us. Three men were buried under all the rubble,'' Olsen recalled.  The German tank stalled. "While the tank driver was trying to get it started, we all rammed chunks of rubble in his bogey wheels and tracks. When he finally got it started, he couldn't go in either direction. One guy crawled onto the tank and when the tank commander opened the hatch, he slugged him with his rifle barrel and dropped two grenades in the tank.''

     The Americans then scattered before the grenades, and possibly the tank's ammunition, exploded. In the confusion, Sergeant Olsen became separated from his unit.

     "By that time, I was so sick that I felt like I just didn't care and was just walking.''  Sometime later a column of tanks caused Platoon Sergeant Olsen to dive for cover, when he did so he fell down a steep embankment and lost consciousness for a time. Later he came across an aid station with both German and American doctors tended to wounded together.  Shortly after that he came upon two German soldiers. No one raised their weapons and the fatigued men passed by each other.

     Sergeant Olsen moved on trying to find his unit but without sucess. After crossing an ice cold stream, fatigued and starving, Sergeant Olsen eithe rlost consciousness or moved in a daze. The next thing he knew, someone was tugging at him and he awoke in a large building, where rows of men were lying on straw. He was in an aid station.

     Eventually, Sergeant Olsen rejoined his Regiment. what was left of it. By the battle's end, the 112th Regiment had lost about 75% of its strength of 2,000 men, Sergeant Olsens Company's losses were worse, 92 percent of 200 men were lost.  "What a blow to find out only 16 of us survived, and only two of those from my platoon,'' he wrote.

     The 112th Regiment was withdrawn from the Battle due to casualties and fatigue on 17 November, 1944. The 110th Regiment of the 28th was similarly withdrawn two days later. The entire Division, battel weary, was relieved on Novemeber 19th by the 8th Division.

     The 28th Infantry Division was moved to a quiet sector of the front to rest and recuperate in Luxembourg.  The Division was to hold a 25 mile front line along the Our River.

     This deployment was unfortunate. The 28th Divison was square in the line of the German counter attack now known as the Battle of the Bulge.

     On December 16, 1944 the German Ardennes counter-offensive hit the division all along its front.  Olsen's Platoon, at this moment, was forward of most of the Division, on the far side of the Our about one mile East of the Luxembourg border.  At four in the morning, while he was walking his unit's positions, the German attack hit.  Olsen found himself surrounded by Germans as shooting broke out. Olsen rushed to the platoon command post, a stone farmhouse, to report the attack to the Company. "The Germans couldn't distinguish me from their own in the dark so I removed my helmet and tucked it under my arm like a football and ran through them as fast as I could.''

     As he rushed through the dark Olsen actually ran into the middle of numerous Germans who fell to the ground as he ran into hem. Luckily it was dark. "Being a prudent man, I kept my mouth shut, got up and continued on my way,''

     As he entered the comand post he and some men fired at some Germans taking cover in the outhouse of the farm. "All hell was breaking loose at that time.''

     Thoughts of reporting in were laid aside as Olsen took cover and opened fire on the Germans moving in the darkness.  Soon he received a radio message from his Company Commander, a Captain, that his platoon was to stay put. They were to delay the Germans as long as they could. His platoon, Sergeant Olsen realised, was being thrown away in an effort to save the rest of the Regiment. "I knew then that we were to be sacrificed.''

     Olsen ordered all his men into the house. "We had more men than windows and doors to shoot out, so some crawled up to the attic and poked holes in the straw roof to fire out of.''

     The Platoon held out throughout the night. As they did so the 112th Regiment, as well as the rest of the 28th Divison and other American units caught by the surprise attack, fell back. Disorganized elements were in many cases surrounded and forced to infiltrate back to friendly lines. But Sergeant Olsen's men stayed in place, as ordered.

     The morning passed and the German's seemed to withdraw.  Suddenly the men realized an artillery barrage was about to hit them. They took cover as German shells exploded all around, drowning out the cries of the wounded.

     However, the position was well chosen and sturdy. Only one man was wounded.  The platoon fought on under Olsen's command.  Infantry attacks resumed and continued through the day, and the next.  A party seeking Olsen's surrender was driven off when Olsen thought it a ruse. When night fell on the 17th, Olsen's men were still there, trying to delay an attack on friendly forces which had already withdrawn many miles away. Still, the Germans they held in place were kept from pursuing.

     Finally their ammunition began to run out.  When on the 18th a trio of German tanks approached, and a parley was offered, Olsen could not expect his men to hold out any longer. Olsen ordered his men to destroy their weapons and surrender.

     Three were gunned down almost at once, apparenly by mistake as the German officer taking the surrender was standing next to the Americans and became furious.

     The surviving men were marched to the german rear. A fourth man was shot by his captors on the march when he failed to cheer an American plane being shot down as ordered.

     They finally arrived  at Stalag 12A in Lindberg where they joined other prisoners. "We didn't get baths. Any water you got, you used it for drinking,'' he said. "We didn't shave. We never got a change of clothes. My socks rotted off.''

     As with all German POW camps, the men were poorly fed.  "I weighed 192 pounds when I went in. I weighed 103 pounds when I came out of there.''

     As the war progressed the men were moved deeper into Germany. The POWs at times marched and at times road in rail cars, "They packed us in so solid.''

     Eventually, after a total of four POW camps, Sergeant Olsen was liberated.  After the war he remained in the service, spending thirty years in active or reserve duty. He retired as a Colonel in 1974.

----- Cdr112inf@aol.com

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