Purple Heart


Private
Anthony P. Manley

1925 - February 8, 1945

Los Angeles, California - Bergstein

 

 

Anthony P. Manley was born in 1925 in Los Angeles and was a truck driver when he joined the US Army on 13 January 1944.

His good friend Joseph Martel wrote:

"Anthony Manley, Alex Mahalovitch and I were born and raised in East Los Angeles, California. We were about the same age. I knew Alex very well in my youth and Anthony only slightly. When we moved to another neighborhood I lost track of them. I went to Roosevelt High School and Alex and Anthony went to Garfield High School. We graduated in June of 1943.

I did not see them until we met again at home in uniform and realizing we were paratroopers. We became friends again, found out that Alex had gotten married and Anthony was his best man. So they were good buddies and we went back from furlough late, on the same train, washed pots and pans for a couple of nights as penalty. We went through all the advanced training and processing to get us to the POE (Port Of Embarkation) to go overseas. Plenty of time to get drunk, go on passes, chase women etc.

E Company

517th Regimental Combat Team

Got to Naples, Italy and we were assigned to the 517th Parachute Combat Team. In November 1944 in Southern France we got relieved and we partied for three weeks "rest." Alex was a drummer and was accepted into the 517th "Jump" band. Much safer in Regimental Headquarters too. Manley and I remained in E company. We went up North to get replacements and prepare
for the jump into Germany in the Spring, Christmas and lots of parties planned. But the Germans had other plans and began what is now known as the "Battle of the Bulge.""

Early February 1945, the 517th RCT found themselves on the frontline near Bergstein in the Huertgen forest and ready to attack. The area of Schmidt, Vossenach, Bergstein and Kommerscheidt was heavily fought over for many months, with horrendous casualties to both the American and German forces. Objectives were the Roer Dams that, if blown, would inundate the Roer valley and severely hamper the American advance into the Rhineland.

The initial attack was beaten off by the Germans with incredible casualties to the US forces. On February 6th, the 517th was to make a divisionary attack, in support of the main assault.

A unit history states: "On the 4th of February Colonel Graves received orders to move the 517th from Stavelot to Germany, and to join the 82nd Airborne Division near Honfeld and Hesheim. Two days later, the Regiment was attached to the 78th Division. The column moved out by truck convoy, and within a few hours had passed the idle tank traps and shattered pill boxes of the Siegfried Line into Rotgen, and through the Hurtgen Forest en route to Bergstein.

The Second and Third Battalions moved out of Bergstein at 2400 hours of the 6th against a high ridge east of the Roer River defended by the German First Parachute Army. The 517th's mission was to occupy this ridge cutting off the enemy's escape route from Schmidt.

Numerous obstacles had been thrown up to prevent the crossing of the river and to help repel attacks. The Germans had had six weeks in which to prepare their positions and had made the most of them by building reinforced cement emplacements, and laying one of the largest mine fields ever seen in Europe. The 596th Parachute Engineers worked heroically while under heavy artillery fire removing the mines, and clearing a path for the 517th.

The battle grew in intensity and by twilight of the second day had reached a violent pitch. An artillery duel was being waged by both sides with the men in the fox holes always on the receiving end. The cross roads that had ,been in an insignificant sector turned, over night, into the most hotly contested area on the western front. The attack continued with "A" Company assaulting Zerkall and on the 8th, the Second Battalion cut through a net work of trip wires to push almost to the river where mortar and small arms fire halted their advance."

Mr. Gene Brissey, also in E Company and a good friend of Sgt. Roger Bender wrote in his memoirs:

"In the pre-dawn hours of the 6th of February 1945, we were plodding through the mud on our way to Bergstein, Germany, where Hitler's 1st Parachute Army had been preparing for weeks to defend the western approach of the Roer River. As we sloshed along the very muddy road leading to Bergstein, the Germans were all around us, or so it seemed. They knew we were coming and shot flares into the air in an effort to see us. These flares would light large areas. When we saw a flare going up we would stop "dead" in our tracks. Somehow we got into the city and tried to breakthrough the German lines, but could not. The enemy poured all kinds of bullet shells into us. In the impossible darkness we were helpless and stumbled and fell over dead animals and many other objects which we could not see. Obstacles in our path were too numerous, so we had to pull back to the outskirts of the town. We learned that the Germans had been working six weeks to improve their defenses along this line. They were in concrete emplacements, and the whole front of us was smothered in the largest mine field ever found in Europe.

We spent the daylight hours of the 6th hidden behind or under anything we could find. I was with a group in a piece of a stone building. There was but three sides to the place and no top. The Germans shelled us all day and our artillery shelled them. A shell hit near our "rubble" hideout, and a piece of metal (shrapnel) from the shell bounced off all three walls like a crazy bumblebee. It missed my head by a hair ... I had short hair. We attacked again on the night of the 6th but to no avail. We had about half of our troops left, and the Germans had everything going for them. During the day of the 7th, we pulled further back and tried to dry our clothes. I took my boots off and placed them near a fire to dry. They got a little too close and one of the tops was burned rather badly. No problem, I put them on and was ready to go again on the night of the 7th. At about midnight on the 7th, our battalion cut through a network of trip wires and passed through mine fields toward the Roer River. We had orders not to shoot because we were going to sneak through the German lines. We might as well have been playing drums because they knew exactly where we were. They threw grenades at us as we crawled through their lines. I saw one get up and run away, I'm sure to tell his buddies that a bunch of idiots were crawling around out there in the night. We got within hearing distance of the river but could get no further. We were ordered to pull back ... retreat ... attack to the rear ... or whatever was most honorable.

Just at daybreak we were out of the woods and on a little hill over-looking the river valley. We were told to dig in there. This had to be the most stupid order our officers had ever given. Those Germans knew exactly where we were and knew exactly how to blast us out of there. Just as we started to dig holes for protection a green flare was shot into the air. We knew this was the signal for artillery to fire ... German artillery that is. The first barrage landed in our position just seconds later. The first blast got the guy who was digging a hole with me. I moved to a shallow hole with two men, and we fired our guns at nothing because we could not see the enemy. I recall a boy, we called Woody, was lying right out in the open firing his machine gun like crazy.  The Germans kept firing artillery and machine guns at us. Bullets were hitting the ground in front of my face and a bursting shell hit another man who was lying beside me. A piece of shrapnel had hit him in the face. At about this time someone in authority directed us to retreat back to Bergstein. I told my group to get back, and they started moving, and fast. Bullets were flying all over. This influenced Kreycme, our mortar man, to throw down his mortar and run like a mad man. Could be that he was just smart, because he did make it back. When I was sure that all the men were out of that hell hole I picked up the mortar and moved out as fast as I could. The mortar was heavy and slowed me down a lot, but I didn't want to leave it for the Germans. I ran a little and fell into a shell hole to rest. I repeated this exercise a few times and was back to the edge of town where I jumped into a ditch to rest.

After a short rest, I picked myself, the mortar and my rifle from the mud hole and started plodding through the mud to the safety of a large building a few yards away. I was happy to have made it back and said to myself ... well, I've scored again. Then, without warning, I was blasted from the war. A shell landed right near me and shrapnel hit me in the right thumb, in the left chest right over the heart and in the right leg. I was lying face down in the mud and the hot shrapnel was burning me something awful. To make things worse the shells were still falling all around me. I placed the mortar in the mud on one side of me, my rifle on the other ... I wouldn't be needing them any more. I then moved my legs ... they seemed to be able to carry me, so I got up and ran a few yards and fell over. Two troopers picked me up and helped me to a big building nearby. It contained the aid station. As they dragged me to the door, some of my buddies, my men, were standing there watching. I heard one of them say, "Oh no, not Gene too. " It was then that I learned that Roger Bender had been killed as we made that senseless effort to dig in on that hill overlooking hell or the Roer River, whichever you prefer."

Mr. Martel continues:

"We went through the some pretty rough battles in E company and I still thank my lucky stars. But on the last day of the Battle of the Bulge, for us, February 8th. in Germany, they sent us on a suicide mission though we didn't know it at the time. And I still don't really know what we were supposed to be doing. I read it in one of the books, that in one instant, one of our officers refused to lead his men into what he considered certain death and got court-martialed.

Everything is two units in front, and one in reserve. The first and second battalion were in front and the third battalion was in reserve. I don't know about the first but the second battalion had E & F company in front and D company in reserve. Somehow, the first battalion was getting too much fire and requested a withdrawal to plan a new attack. That left E & F companies holding the entire regimental front. We had gone into the Bulge with almost two hundred men. The Colonel writes in his memoirs, "the companies that had gone into Bergstein with 40 men were now down to 20." We were getting intense machine gun and mortar fire in our sector.

Usually you dig a hole and as long as you are under the ground level you are pretty safe. Anthony Manley was radio man and runner for Sergeant Bender (at the time with battlefield commission of Lieutenant). They were in the same hole and as luck would have it the mortar fell in the hole.

We were relieved later that day and I sure was glad to get the hell out of there. Going through the "Battle of the Bulge" was the most traumatic experience of my life. I got back from the line and I almost expected to have headquarters waiting with coffee and doughnuts. I met up with Alex who I was trying to avoid. He got to me and told me how everyone had been on the radios and they wanted to see what was left of E & F companies.

Naturally he asked about Manley. I tried to show him the new Luger P38 pistol I had acquired but he suspected something was wrong and grabbed both my arms. "What about Manley?" I had to tell him. "Manley is still back there." I saw the tears in his eyes but he just let me go and turned away from me. He may have cried somewhere on his own without anyone being aware. Manley was his best friend, if he made it home he would have to face Manley's family. The war was officially over on May 12th and I got home in September, just in time to celebrate my 20th birthday on September 12, 1945. I saw Alex several times in Los Angeles but I haven't seen him now for over 40 years."

Shortly after Pvt Manley and Sgt Bender were killed in their foxhole, the town of Schmidt was taken by the 78th Infantry Division and the 517th was relieved by the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 517th were taken off the line and to France to recover from the battles of recent weeks and did not see combat again. The regiment had lost over 200 men killed, wounded and missing, about a third of their strength. 'Bergstein' would live on in the memory of all those who fought there.

Private Anthony Manley is buried at Margraten American Military Cemetery, Plot G Row 15 Grave 17.




Margraten, The Netherlands

 

See also:
Sgt Roger Bender
Pfc James Baney

Other casualties of the 517th Regimental Combat Team

Sources:
Mr. Joseph Martel, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 517th RCT
Mr. Gene Brissey, E Company, 2nd Battalion 517th RCT memoirs
Ben, of the 517th RCT website (unit crest courtesy of the website)

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

If you have any suggestions, comments or additional information, please contact me.

This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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