Thursday, October 28, 2010

Egbert Vander Kooi - Family Hero #2 (cont.)

Fort Knox is where Uncle Eg’s assignment to the Armored Division begins with being assigned to the 8th armored unit. On September 27, 1943 he joined the 775th Tank Battalion. He would make the 775th his “home” until his discharge following the end of the war. Training with the 775th occurred in both Louisiana and California. On May 28, 1944, he shipped out toward war and first landed at Oro Bay New Guinea on June 20, 1944. He crossed the Stanley Mountains in support of the 32nd Division (the Red Arrow Division from Michigan and Wisconsin) and remained in New Guinea until just before Christmas 1944. We do not know any details about his time in New Guinea, but I recently read a book about the 32nd Division entilted "The Ghost Mountain Boys". This was jungle fighting at its worst. It was a long horrendous battle against the Japanese to win victory in the jungles of New Guinea.

He landed on the beach at Luzon Philippines Christmas Day 1944. This must have been a rather unusual way to celebrate Jesus birth. In the Philippines, it appears that Egbert was initially in almost constant battle. The 775th tank battalion was once again assigned to the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division. [Ironically, the 126th Inf. Reg. was the unit that my great Uncle Herman Bartels fought and died with during WWI]. The tanks and infantry worked together to attach the Japanese defending the mountains of Northern Luzon. In his three page “Military History” he writes “Was assigned to the 32nd Inf. Regt. Worked with all three Battalions (1st, 2nd & 3rd) in the mountains of Northern Luzon. Killed a lot of Nips and knocked out a lot of their equipment. Gave the Nips the surprise of their life by bringing a tank on a high hill where the infantry was pinned down. Did a good job and saved a lot of Dough Boys.”
I need to pause here a moment. Although he took a few minutes to write down some facts in this brief paragraph, he seems to write without emotion. This had to be a tremendously tough act of bravery, and yet he makes it sound like just another day. The fact that he was a modest and reserved man is demonstrated here. This was my Uncle Egbert’s short account of this battle. However, I am thankful that a newspaper article remains also giving an account of this portion of the horrific battle that occurred in Luzon early in 1945. The article helps capture the brave actions he took to come to the aid of his fellow soldiers who were in a desperate situation.

The following is the exact text from a copy of the 1945 newspaper article. The original was tattered & yellowed and a few words are missing. The publication and exact date is unknown.

The 775th Tank Battalion trained with live ammunition in the Luzon (Philippine) swamps, also trained in the New Guinea jungle. They are (now) blasting Nips in Northern Luzon and the infantry called them “mountain goats.” They scale the razorback ridges at which even the jeeps jibe. (The tanks) crash their own roads through trees and boulders and flirt with precipices from which they look down on the artillery’s grasshopper plains.
Lt. Egbert J. Vander Kooi of Zeeland, a platoon leader won the Bronze Star medal along with 3 crew members of one of _____ for an exploit in the Luzon Mountains. The infantry company that they were attached was held up by Jap strong points on the next ridge, 600 yards away. Artillery and mortar fire had no effect on the dug in Japs.
The infantry commander did not think a tank could climb the ridge, but Lt. Vander Kooi obtained his permission to try. With the lieutenant leading the way on foot, scouting a route, the tank inched and twisted up the ridge, nosing over trees and around boulders and skidding perilously at times on loose soil and rock.
Under intense sniper, machine gun, mortar and artillery fire all the way, the tank gained the crest and blasted the Jap pillboxes with point blank fire and made it possible for the infantry to cross the valley and take the ridge.
(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. So cool that you have this information on him.