The Lost Battalion

by Marion W. Ferguson
36th Infantry Division

     It would seem only appropriate here to invoke the almighty in attempting to recount the tragic events that cost the lives of so many valiant men:  French, American and German, in the Voses Mountains of Northeastern France in October and November of 1944. Much of this mountainous chain is covered with pine forest and dense underbrush, and is almost impenetrable; clouds cling to the mountainsides so that the interior of the forest is wrapped in heavy mist, severely limiting visibility, and the entire chain is shrouded in an eerie and everlasting gloom.

     It was into this perpetual gloom that the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th (Texas) Infantry Division, vanished on the 24th Day of October, 1944, and many brave men of that ill-fated unit were never to see the light of the desperate days were to follow.

      The 1st Battalion had been driving steadily Southwest along a heavily wooded ridge for the two days, moving fast and sweeping away all resistance.  The wily foe, every alert to tactical advantage, finally stopped the Battalion's forward drive and then filtered in behind it, trapping the unfortunate Texans a full three miles from the nearest friendly unit.  The "Lost Battalion" was ordered to fight its way back but found that it could not do so.  The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 141st Regiment were then ordered to break through to their comrades.  They were thrown back each time they attacked.  German heavy mortars, machine guns, grenadiers and riflemen took their toll day and night, whenever a man moved in. Slit trenches were of little protection for soon filled with icy water from soggy ground, and the men took their chances out of them, rather than endure the freezing mud and water.  Things were worse than grim.

     As all this went on, the plight of the 1st Battalion grew more and more desperate.  A few planes had been able to drop in some food and ammunition; drinking water and medical supplies were all but exhausted.  The dead were wrapped in shelter halves and placed behind the aid station in ever a lengthening row.  the 442nd Regimental Combat Team composed entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry was attached to the 36th division and they were ordered by the commanding general to attack and push through at any cost.  The entire Combat Team, plus attached units, pushed.  And pushed still more, giving the determined Germans no respite, day and night for the next twenty-five days.  But costs were heavy.  By the night of November 9th almost all elements of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had been relieved and pulled back to the rest areas.  By that date, the enemy had been completely shattered.  On October 30, the first elements of the 442nd broke through to the surrounded battalion,; there were tears of joy in the eyes of many, to be sure, but the shouts of jubilation were somewhat muted and rather out of place.  There were only 211 survivors of the 1st Battalion.  Altogether the 442nd had, by the night of the relief, lost 140 killed in action.  about 1800 were in various army hospitals throughout France.  Some would return to their units.  Others were not so lucky and would return only their homes without arms or legs, a foot, a hand or a face.  Practically all won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star; many won the Silver Star and there were not a few who won the Distinguished Service Cross.  It had been a time for heroes.

     The brotherhood of arms has changed but little since the day of the Spartans and it is the brotherhood that still binds together the brave of all the earth.   

     On July 4th, 1992, at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park, a 10 foot obelisk will be erected in honor of the 36th (Texas) Infantry Division.  the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 517th Parachute Team that fought with our division will also be honored. 

     This article is dedicated to our beloved comrades of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and all Americans of Japanese ancestry who have given so much and received so little.