View Full Version : Medal comes late to World War II veteran

11-04-03, 05:53 AM
Medal comes late to World War II veteran
Bronze Star Medal honors European combat service


By Doug Elliott

It’s been a long wait, 58 years to be exact, but long-time Lake Geneva resident Clarence Freitag has finally received a Bronze Star Medal for his combat service with the infantry in Europe during World War II.

The prestigious medal, which is among numerous medals and ribbons Freitag earned during the war, was received through the efforts of Walworth County Service Officer Chris Jordan. Eligibility to receive the medal dates back to late in World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order for the award. However, with the war ending not long after the president’s action, the order was not followed through and medals were not issued to millions of deserving GIs, most of whom were not even aware that they were eligible for it. Only World War II veterans who were in combat are eligible to receive the Bronze Star Medal, according to Jordan.

Freitag, a staff sergeant, was in combat in France in October, November and December 1944, serving with Company C, First Battalion, 378th Regiment, 95th Infantry Division, of General George Patton’s Third Army, which experienced some of the fiercest battles of the war.

Freitag had entered military service in June 1942, completed basic training with the infantry at Camp Swift in Texas and went overseas in 1944, landing in England in July that year. In September 1944 he landed on Omaha Beach, which was one of the five French coast beaches on which American forces had landed on the D-Day invasion a few months earlier.

Within a few weeks of arriving in France, Freitag recalls, his unit “ran into heavy fighting.” His unit at that time was moving toward Metz, France, a heavily fortified large city on the Moselle River not far from Luxembourg and the German border. Metz was a major city in ancient Gaul under Roman rule. Over the centuries as Europe evolved and nations were formed, Metz was included in France. German forces captured it in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and Germany annexed it. France won it back in World War I. Germany conquered it in 1940 and held it until it was liberated by American forces in 1944. It remains part of France today. When German General Kittel surrendered the city to American forces in World War II, he referred to the 95th Division as “the Iron Men of Metz.”

The World War II battles to capture Metz and its immediate surrounding area lasted several weeks, into late November, the Americans experiencing miserable weather as well as powerful resistance from German soldiers.

Freitag recalled, “Advancing in Metz, we walked all day, day after day, with no time to rest or get warm or to dry off from the cold rain. And we ate cold K-rations most of the time, but even cold they tasted good. I liked them. For weeks we hadn’t been dry or washed or changed clothes. But following weeks of sleeping outdoors on the cold wet ground, after moving through the outlying areas we finally fought our way into Metz, where there were buildings still with roofs on, and dry inside. Some of us moved into a library for the night. It was our first shelter where we were inside, out of the rain. There was a marble floor, but it was dry and it sure looked good, and we were all looking forward to finally spending a night indoors. But it was too good to last. Before we even got settled in, orders came down from battalion headquarters telling us that we were moving out. So out we went, tired, into the cold rain and we walked all night, until day break when we arrived at our new position.”

By then Freitag’s unit was moving forward beyond Metz and toward the village of Merten, walking for several days. “We were cold and wet — soaked — when we got to Merten,” Freitag recalled. “We found one house that wasn’t damaged and we moved in. We slept inside one night, in our wet clothes, shoes and coat. What a day. There was quite a fight to win that town. We left Merten Dec. 2, our orders being to advance to the Saar River.”

The Saar and the Siegfried Line, Germany’s vast string of permanent fortifications, were just inside the nearby German border. The next day, Dec. 3, Freitag and his buddy, Staff Sergeant Jack Jones, were both critically injured when hit by two blasts that came within minutes of each other.

“A 120 millimeter mortar blast hit us first, when I was up ahead scouting,” Freitag said. “I could hear the weapon and I knew it was a mortar. You could tell by the sound of it. I got down into a wheel track for protection, but it exploded right beside me, lifting me into the air. I was hit in the right leg and shoulder. I was able to stand up and Jack came up to help me, but I could not go on. Jack, who also was injured, said he’d stay with me until the medics arrived. While we were waiting, artillery shells came in on a tree burst. Shrapnel hit us. It broke my left hand and injured my left shoulder. And it broke my rifle in pieces.”

Medics took Freitag and Jones to a temporary field hospital for treatment. Despite the seriousness of the occasion, there was initially a touch of humor. Freitag said the attendants, seeing his German name, thought he was an injured German soldier and they put him in a tent with prisoners of war. He wasn’t there long. Being in the field hospital was the last time that Freitag and Jones saw or had contact with each other until 1980. Freitag was taken to the American Hospital in Paris then to a hospital in London. Jones was taken to another hospital, presumably in France or England. The two had been together beginning with their first days in basic training. They went overseas together, were always in the same unit and, as Freitag remembers, “We always said that if one of us gets hit or killed we both will because we’re always together. And that’s what happened.”

In 1980, a trucker whose route occasionally took him through Lake Geneva from Ohio and on west, stopped at the Lake Geneva Regional News and left a brief note from Jones, who knew Freitag had worked at the newspaper prior to the war and hoped he was still there (which he was), or would be known of there. Jones owned and operated a truck stop in the small town of Columbiana in eastern Ohio. Jones died in 1996, after which his wife and daughters located Freitag and they since have corresponded with each other.

After five months of hospitalization, Freitag left London and was sent back to France on limited service basis in April 1945. On May 7 Germany surrendered. Freitag was in Reims, France, that day and watched the plane arriving with the Nazi German officials, who came to deliver their unconditional surrender to the Allies. Freitag arrived back home in August. He was in Milwaukee at the Schroeder Hotel (now the Milwaukee Hilton) Aug. 6 when news came of the first atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

Along with the Bronze Star Medal Freitag also was awarded the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern campaign medal with Bronze Star attachment, Combat Infantryman Badge First Award, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button for World War II.

Other than a few early childhood days, Freitag, who celebrated his 88th birthday Sept. 13, has been a resident of Lake Geneva. He was born in Linn Township on the south shore Villa Thekla estate, where his father was employed. At that time, John C. Fleming owned the estate, which later was owned by the Madlener family. The Freitags moved to Zenda for a few years, then moved to Lake Geneva, where the future soldier completed elementary and high school.

Freitag began working for the Regional News in 1938 for $5 a week. He worked there until entering military service and returned there after World War II.

He was shop foreman when he retired in 1993. He lived at 1035 Pleasant St. in Lake Geneva for 57 years before moving to his present residence at 250 Havenwood Drive, Apt. 321.

In recent years his sight has been restricted because of macular degeneration, but a “Reader” helps him cope with that impairment. He corresponds regularly with friends in South Carolina, Missouri and North Dakota.