18th Infantry Regiment Association

Brief History by Edward

Brief History by Edward R. Kuehn

 of WWII Experience

In 18th Infantry, First Infantry Division


I had a Reserve Officers Commission from the University of Connecticut. On the 24th of May 1941 I received a telegram to report for active duty at Fort Devine at 9:00 a.m. May 28th to the Regular Army, First Infantry Division, 18th Infantry.  This was about seven months before Pearl Harbor.


I reported in and was told to sit on a chair outside the Regimental Commanders office until he could see me. His office was part of a very large room housing quite a few junior officers and clerks.  While I was sitting there the phone rang at the major’s desk, a few feet away from me. I heard the major give a real “chewing out” to someone on the phone.  Then he put the phone down, looked at me, and gave me a big wink.  I mention this because afterwards when I had finished law school, I decided to turn my Infantry Commission into a Paratrooper Commission.  While standing near a jump tower, a group of generals came up to inspect what was going on. In the group was the same major; he saw the First Division patch on my left shoulder and rushed over and started pumping my hand. I didn’t even have time to salute him.   He was now a major general, 2rd in command of the Paratroop Division, but still wore his First Division patch on his left shoulder.  He wanted to know about many of the officers, and I filled in as best I could.


My first assignment was with “L” Company of the 3rd Battalion, Commanded by William Bradford McCleland Chase the 3rd, a West Pointer.  My platoon sergeant was “Bobbie” Brown, a regular army sergeant who had fought with Chenault in China.  He was known and admired by all the higher army “brass”.  I mention him because he appears later in my career and in this bit of history.  Both Captain Chase and Major Murphy, my 3rd Battalion Commander, were West Pointers.  Every six months they had to turn in a fitness report on their junior officers to Regimental Headquarters.  My first fitness report gave me a superior rating, and Colonel Dennis sent it back to Major Murphy and Captain Chase to change it since no reserve officer was entitled to a superior rating. The Major and Captain refused to change the rating and soon Major Murphy was shipped out of the Division.  Captain Chase was transferred from the 18th (and the First Division) the day after our landing at Arzeu, in the invasion of North Africa.  I mention this because as a reserve officer, I (along with others) was looked down upon by the West Point officers.  I was twice put in for citations for valor and both times they were denied. The prevailing view was that reserve officers didn’t need citations, but West Pointers did.  They needed the awards for their promotions.


But enough of that…..I have been asked to write about my war experiences.  Thankfully, that was more than 60 years ago, and they have faded from my memory.  This is what I remember…….


We sailed, unescorted, to Europe (Scotland) on the Queen Mary with approximately 2,400 members of the 18th Infantry, of which 169 were officers.  Of these 169 officers, only 27 came home after the war.  To the best of my knowledge, Lieutenant Roger Davis and I are the only two left of the 27 who came home.  Roger lives in Brattleboro, VT, is 91 and just visited with me a few weeks ago with his daughter.


After training in Scotland and England, we sailed for North Africa. We landed in three different spots and the British landed at Bizerte.  Our Bn landed at Arzeu, a few miles from Oran.  I was in the first wave and experienced my first taste of combat.  A “staff’ sergeant was killed by French artillery fire from Arzeu as he hit the ground next to me. Our Regiment had over 350 casualties, of which about 103 were killed; contrary to U.S. newspaper reports that we had landed with little resistance. Actually the Vichy French were pro-German and fought against our invasion, as did the French Foreign Legion.


After a month of bivouacking in the olive groves, we received emergency orders to pack up, pullout and head to Tunis.  The British were being pummeled and needed help.  I was given the only map the Division had and told to lead the 18th Infantry about 900 miles to Tunis.  We went thru part of the Sahara Desert to the Medjez el Bab area, where the British were having a tough time on Longstop Hill, being out numbered by the Jerries.  We arrived at night in the pouring rain, in time to send the First Bn in support of the British. Amongst the brush, “A” Company lost its Company Commander, Irv Yarock, and part of the first platoon and they spent the war in Germany.  This was our first experience with the British.  They had pulled out without informing the Americans that they were withdrawing, and exposing their flanks.


We were then put under General Andersons British First Army Command, and given the job of holding the line against a Jerry attack from Tunis.  I was Bn S-2 and being bored one day I went to “K” Company on our right flank, picked up five volunteers (one being Sargent Koenig, a very fine soldier), and headed to the front of Longstop Hill. Here I instructed the group to remain while Sgt. Koenig and I went up to the mosque at the top of the hill.  He was on my right and was to check the door entrance while I went on the left side where a large bush extended on the south west corner. Sgt. Koenig beat me around his corner and ran into a pack of Jerries dozing and sleeping.  He got the first shot in and killed their radio man. I rushed around my bush and was encountered by 12 to 15 Jerries who had been asleep in the tall grass.  All sort of fire power burst out and when a few rounds brushed my clothes I yelled to Sgt. Koenig, “Let’s get out of here; it’s getting too hot”.  We ran to the south side of the mosque in a hail of small mortar fire which never exploded when the shells hit the ground. We thanked the enemy prisoner who made them in the German factory!


When we got back to Bn Headquarters, Colonel Brown insisted we go to Regimental Headquarters to report to Colonel Green.  I told him what happened and Col. Brown wanted him to give both Sgt. Koenig and myself a Silver Star. That’s when our West Point S-3 spoke up and told Colonel Green not to do it! He said it was our job as First Division men to do what we did. He then cited the Division motto.  Sgt. Koenig was later killed at Mateur.


Our next move was an emergency night move to the Kasserine Pass area where Patton’s First Armored Division had been badly beaten by the Jerries.  In due respect, their tanks were smaller, faster and more mobile; with greater fire power (much better than ours) and that fact was relayed home in a hurry.  At night we dug our foxholes deep enough to cover us and allow the jerry tanks to ride over us without damaging us.  We would then clobber their infantry that followed the tanks. They learned enough to pull back thru the pass to the coastal road. 


There were two basic routes to Tunis….the coastal road with little maneuverability, and the Bizerte road west of the mountains.  The Jerries had attempted to break thru at the Kaskerine Pass to reach the center road, but were now stopped. Hence Rommel’s forces tried to take the Bizerte Road and here “K” company of the 3rd Bn 18th Infantry was placed on the hills to stop them.  It developed into a major battle with very heavy casualties, including some bayonet fighting by the “K” company defenders.  Because our communication equipment was not good in the hill area, Colonel Brown always sent his S-3 and S-2’s to the companies that were involved in the combat.  I was with “K” company at that time.  My M1 rifle got so hot it didn’t fire, so I used another one belonging to a dead soldier who didn’t need his anymore.  In the midst of the fighting I came upon the Regimental Commanders anti-tank gun that had been abandoned by its crew except for a corporal crouched behind the gun.  Down in the valley at the road intersection were two Jerry tanks, with their drivers standing outside, talking and smoking cigarettes.  Up the Bizerte Road, out of range of the two tanks were the two Division anti-tank vehicles firing shells, landing conveniently about 250 yards short.   Our 18th Infantry gun was aimed at the two Jerry tanks and I asked the Corporal if he knew how to fire the gun.  He explained he did so I gave him the distance and the range and he fired the gun. It hit the track of the tank on the right and also hit the driver.  He had difficulty maneuvering to the other side of the tank to get into it and the tank also had difficulty moving to get out of range.  Unfortunately it got out of our anti-tank gun range before we could re-load and finish our jobs. The Jerries were forced to use the Coastal Road.


After the battle, I walked in front of our defense provider and found many dead Jerries and an officer, dead and on his knees with his 38 caliber pistol in his right hand facing our lines. After the fighting was over, we sent out a patrol from “I” Company to see if there might be some more Jerry units coming through. Unfortunately it was ambushed and my friend, “Curly” Curtis spent the remainder of the war in German hands. When he didn’t come back I followed the ridge line and apparently became a tempting target for a British Spitfire plane with several wing-bombs tied to the wings. They let them go and the bombs straddled me without any further damage. When it was reported to Division, the report back was that there were no British Spitfires or American planes in the area. But I know it was a Spitfire!


A few days after the battle, Col. Brown gave me leave to go back to the regimental forward C.P. area for a little bit of rest. It was about 20+ miles into the Sahara Dessert, in a Palm tree grove.  Under the trees the regiment had a big tent to plan its actions.  As I lay there, I heard loud sirens blowing and saw four motorcyclists with sirens in front of a combat car.  General Patton was standing up in the back seat, a la Mussolini, and followed by several cars of reporters and Patton’s own publicity staff.  He got out of the vehicle and headed towards the large tent where Col. Mason, the Regimental S-3 had been working.  He had dashed out of the tent when the sirens sounded.  Col. Mason did not have his helmet on.  Earlier Patton had decreed that ALL officers had to wear their helmets at all times, wear ties, prominently display their rank on their uniforms, and shave every day.  We never got water to drink, nor water to shave.  Patton was mad and then chewed out Col. Mason in the presence of the enlisted men for not wearing his helmet.  It was army protocol that you never disciplined a senior officer in the presence of those of minor rank. After the war the movie industry made a movie called “The Longest Day”, starring Col. Mason as he walked on Omaha Beach during the invasion of France. He was screaming at the soldiers and encouraging them to get up and climb the banks, saying “Do you want to live forever?”


We now headed back North and here I’ve got to say we were involved in some continuous heavy fighting.  It was similar to the El Guettar battle, but it will be enough to say it took place and we continued to suffer heavy casualties.  General Truecott, Division Commander of the 3rd Division, later wrote in his memoirs that the fighting in Tunisia was tougher and bloodier than what they encountered in France and Germany. He was Commander of a whole corps of troops in France and Germany.


It was after the battle of El Guettar that “K” Company received its first Presidential Unit Citation. It had had 62% casualties.  The citation was one of five such citations “K” received, the only branch of all the military and naval services to receive that amount.  It had had five company commanders, three of whom were killed and two (including Captain Kuehn) were seriously wounded. I don’t wear the “ribbon” because the citation only read “K” Company.


I’ve got to mention Hill #104 because this also incurred some very heavy fighting and losses.  We went back and forth.  My friend, Captain Fogg of “L” company was killed. Billy Cross took a direct mortar hit. Sgt. Pencak and Lt. Fowler of the 2nd Battalion also were killed.  When I heard that Capt. Fogg had been wounded, I got up to see if I could help him. Col. Brown pulled out his 45 caliber revolver and told me he would kill me if I went to help Capt. Fogg.  It’s sufficient to say I didn’t go.


The recently arrived 45th Division of the National Guard was on our left flank and they too suffered heavy losses.  I remember a fighter plane crashing in front of our battalion.  However, the pilot must have bailed out because he wasn’t there.


I could go on writing about the many heavy battles we were involved in but they seemed to be all the same….many heavy losses of men and officers.  But we continued northward. Places like Sbitla come to mind. Meanwhile the British forces continued their fighting along the coastal highway towards Tunis.


We were stopped at Mateur where another bloody battle took place and Captain Raymer of “K” Company was killed.  I was made “K” Co’s Company Commander and guided it through some heavy fighting, finally helping to push the Jerries out of Tunisia.  Col. Brown ordered me to go to Tunis to see if I could recover some of the 18th Infantry soldiers that had been taken prisoner.  I drove into Tunis with the British soldiers, to the cheering of the citizens, and an occasional kiss from a pretty Tunisian girl.  I stopped at a bar where officers of both sides of the fighting were having beers and singing songs (the favorite being Lilli Marlena). Just a few hours earlier they had been trying to kill each other.  After a quick look around, we found out that the few American soldiers that had been captured had broken out of their prison areas and were already on their way back to their companies.


Our 18th Infantry was then moved back the 900 miles to the early bivouac area we had at Oran, to prepare for the invasion of Sicily.  Meanwhile, Admiral Darlan, the Vichy French Commander of the French fleet had been assassinated by a younger French officer that had aspirations of his own, but was later killed by one of Darlan’s supporters.  The French fleet remained bottled up in Oran and a lone German bomber came over to bomb it. The bomb was short and fell in a yard next to a military hospital close to the fleet area. I mention this because the bomb killed one of my UConn friends, Art Chatfield, who had worked with me in the “beanery”. Art was in the hospital recovering from wounds received in Tunisia.


One of the days while we were in bivouac, Major Bob York, Commander of the 2nd Bn of the 18th Infantry, hit me up with the suggestion that we go into Oran for a few beers. I was amenable.  I think we had a mutual admiration society, because I considered him the best officer (a West Pointer) I ever knew. We took a couple of fellow officers with us and hit Oran, only to find all places “off limits”, except for Mediterranean Base Section personnel only.  There were only two bars when we first took Oran and now they were “off limits” to all but MBS personnel.  The best bar was the Coq d’or (Golden Rooster) and a tall M.P. with his rifle stood at the door refusing to let us enter. Major York pushed him aside and we all entered. In the far corner were six MBS officers having beers.  We asked the bar tender for beers and he was told by the MBS officers to give us wine. We could have bought the wine anywhere for $2.00 a gallon. Bob York jumped over the bar and started handing out bottles of beer to us.  The MBS officers came over to stop us.  I can still feel the nice feeling I have in my right fist where I hit a plump Lt. Col. In the stomach! We got out of the bar and headed back to camp, drinking and singing all the way.


Needless to say a complaint went to General Eisenhower. He ordered our Division Commander, Terry Allen, to find out who we were and to disciple us even to the extent of a drop in grade.  Terry Allen refused and told Eisenhower that his Division had lost over 350 wounded and killed in taking Oran and he was considering going back and taking over the city again. As it was, he ordered his Regimental Commander to see to it that all who were given temporary leave to go to Oran, go in groups of at least 5 soldiers at all times.  Terry Allen was relieved of command of the division during the invasion of Sicily and was sent back to the states.  He was too good an officer and he somehow got command of one of the new divisions being formed.  He got back overseas where his division did a good job in the Battle of the Buldge.


Next was the invasion of Sicily.  We boarded our LCI in Tunis and started out in the biggest storm the Mediterranean had been involved in over 50 years.  The waves broke over the bow of the ship and some even poured into the bunk areas where the men were violently sick. The “screws” became uncovered, 8 to 10 feet in the air, and could be seen with every roll of the ship.  My young skipper had been a banking clerk in the mid-west and had never seen the ocean before. He was fearful the ship would break apart (and so was I), and asked if we shouldn’t turn back. We had “radio silence” and I told him I had my orders.  So we continued on and were happy to hear some noise from other LCIs as we approached our target.  Unfortunately our sailors taking us ashore had gotten fouled up. “L” Company was supposed to be on “K” Company’s left side, taking the hill over looking the airport, and we were to be on their right side. Unfortunately we found ourselves on the Gela Hill and drove out the weak Italian resistance, and occupying the large holes that had contained their green crews and their ammunition.  My forward communication unit (of 4 individuals) was up the hill a bit further than I was, and it was wiped out by the naval shells from an American cruiser that had been ordered to support out action.  They had not been told that we had reached our objective. In the meantime, a high flying German plane had dropped the biggest flair I had ever seen, covering the whole area. Our naval supporting crews started firing at our paratroopers that had flown from England and Malta, killing and wounding quite a few.  Again we had a lack of communication.


At daybreak the “great” Regimental S-3 had arrived at the “L” Company C.P. and ordered the company to wipe out a machine gun nest that was holding up our advance. The young 18 year old jeep driver I had when I was the Bn S-2 was killed. He was the only child of a widowed mother, a happy-go-lucky boy who always sang when he drove me around.  The news came to me and I wanted to know who the damn fool was who ordered the frontal attack on a machine gun nest. Unbeknownst to me, the regimental S-3 had arrived at my C.P. and he said, “I did. You take your company and knock it out”. I told him to “go to hell”.  To make a long story short, I worked my way around our left flank, quietly, and came upon him half-asleep in the sun. I captured him and made him walk to our C.P. where I told the S-3 Major that if I was a West Pointer he would put me in for the Legion of Merit.  He said nothing.  I gathered my platoon leaders together and gave them my orders to advance.  For three days and nights we led the entire Division to the center of Sicily. We were near the little town of Villa Rosa, having about six minor engagements with the Italian rear guard.  I must have sent about 350 of their soldiers to the rear…some unescorted. They didn’t want to fight and were happy with the thought of going to the U.S. Without having any food or sleep for three days, we were put into reserve and had the opportunity to eat a warm C-ration meal and put on a new pair of socks.


I then got a message to report to the Bn C.P., and being the farthest away, I was the last one getting there. When Major Sisson saw me he said “Oh, I’m glad you are here, I want you to make the reconnaissance in force instead of “L” company.” I objected. My men were tired and had had enough! He said, “No, Ed, I want you to do it. I’ll give you whatever support you need.”  I was “hooked” so I asked for the full support of the 32nd Field Artillery, as I had no idea where the Jerry mortars were, though I did see a few of their tanks.  I then went back and gave the bad news to my platoon leaders.  My lead platoon leader was Lt. Schoenlieber and his platoon had come to rest on the ‘stop order” on a flat piece of ground, exposed.  I felt the best thing to do was to lay down a saturation barrage from the 32nd field artillery and get them out of the danger area, but at that point I didn’t have my forward observer from the 32nd field artillery.  He finally came from over the hill, a young observer on his first mission.  I told him what I wanted and why and I turned away to see to it that my communications section was in a safe place. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the young observer walking straight up the knoll in front of us. Before I could yell to him to hit the ground the Jerries had zeroed in on us with their heavy mortars and he was killed. I was hit on my left shoulder and also a big piece of shrapnel had gone thru the metatarsal of my right foot.  I had my communications section notify Major Sisson.  It was then that I found out “the reconnaissance in force” had been called off until morning. I found out later that Lt. Schoenlieber had been killed in the attack.


I lay there in the dark and it wasn’t until about 5 hours later that the litter bearers found me and carried me to a waiting ambulance.  They took me down to the canvas field hospital in the beach area where a medial corpsman carefully cut off my right shoe (after injecting my foot with plenty of pain killers). I lay there until about 5 o’clock in the morning.  Then my old Sgt. Bobbie Brown found me. He had given up about six hours of necessary sleep to locate me. I told him to “tell the boys I would be back in a couple of weeks. All I had was a flesh wound.”  He said, “No. You are wounded more seriously. You will be going home. I came to tell you I am glad. You are the best officer I have ever served under!”  Now that was better than the Congressional Medal of Honor!!!!!  Later I was operated on by a medical captain from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  He had offered to join the Army medical corps so long as he was given a job in the front line operating on wounded soldiers. He did a good job on me, came to talk to me as I laid there, and I gave him my Jerry P-38, a very prized item, which he certainly appreciated.


From there I went to hospital after hospital….10 in all.  In one tent hospital Patton arrived with his group of publicists.  In the tent next to mine he slapped a soldier from the 26th Infantry regiment in the face, called him a “yellow belly”, and told him to get up and go back to his unit and fight like a man. At the start of all the fighting this soldier had weighed about 176 lbs, had a head of black hair, and now weighed only 124 lbs and was white haired. One of the reporters wrote about it in his U.S. newspaper and Eisenhower got the news. He ordered Patton to locate the soldier and personally apologize for his actions.


In one of the tent hospitals a cute nurse took a shine to me because I looked so much like her aviator lover. She showed me his picture.  I have to admit we did look a lot alike. He was a fighter pilot on the Murmansk run, trying to protect the ships carrying supplies to Russia. She hadn’t heard from him for a month and she was worried.  You were scheduled for 5 engagements, and if you survived 3 of them you were sent back to the states, never to fly in combat again. I didn’t tell her my suspicions, nor did I object when she gave me a nightly kiss, and called me by his name.


After a year, one month and 10 days, I was finally released from my Army hospitals and sent to South Carolina’s Camp Croft to train replacement troops, on a limited basis. The company I was assigned to was the worse one out of 36 companies on the post.  It had the worse AWOL rate of all the companies (an average of 8-10 per month).  I’m convinced the Company Commander was bucking for a Section 8. He “wanted out”.  By the end of my first month there, as a Company Commander, I had no AWOLs!  The brass began to take notice and when the Regimental S-3 was sent to combat for his bit, they made me Regimental S-3 as a Captain, instead of a Lt. Colonel.  They put me in for advancement, jumping several grades.  Washington always denied the promotion because I didn’t have the “time in grade” even though the two generals running the post wrote personal letters in support of the move.  One of the reasons my jump in rank wasn’t suppose to be approved was that Camp Croft was processing many Lt. Colonels coming home from combat and there must have been at least one qualified to take over the job. 


I opted to get out of the service and go to law school.  When I applied for my discharge (I had the points to get out) I was called to “the Hill” to appear before the two commanding generals, and with Washington’s approval, I was offered a temporary commission as a major, permanent commission as a captain, and would be put on orders to go to the General Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth for its 6 month course.  If you passed it, you were practically guaranteed to become a general some day.  I refused.  I was married and had a daughter.  I had no plans to bring her up as an Army Brat.  I knew its moral code.  Perhaps I should mention here that after one of our battles I and one other had been sent behind the lines to Division Headquarters to be sworn in a regular officers.  Both of us refused.  If I hadn’t been married I might have considered it, but probably not!