Foxwood Springs man receives WWII honor

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Foxwood Springs resident Roger F. James, 90, has received distinguished recognition by the French Republic for his participation in the Battle of Rittershoffen, a battle on French soil that took place nearly seven decades ago. He has been granted the Knight of the French Legion of Honor, which is the highest award offered by France.

This award was first instituted by Napolean Bonaparte in 1802. An American must meet the following requirements to receive the recognition: the action must have taken place on French soil; at least two US Army awards, such as the Purple Heart and a Bronze or Silver Stars, must have been awarded to the recipient; and the recipient must have an honorable discharge and be alive.

According to a press release, “James met all qualifications and is especially gratified to have achieved the last one.”

The same press release states that the Battle of Rittershoffen was called part of the “greatest defensive battle of the war” by General Jacob Denvers. James served as a corporal tank gunner in Company “C,” 48th Tank Battalian, 14th Armored Division. The timing of the battle coincided with the more-publicized Battle of Bastogne.

James found out about this great award through “The Liberator,” which is the 14th Armored Division Association newsletter. He began to talk online with other recipients of the award before submitting his own application through the French Consulate out of Chicago, who sent it on to France. James waited nearly a year before finding out the he was chosen to be a recipient.

The following is the story of James’s involvement in the battle:

“On the eve of the firefight which merited the award, three tanks of the second platoon were deployed on the outskirts of the Rittershoffen. All night long they were subjected to tank-like noises coming from behind a hill. The Germans were attempting to unnerve the tankers by terrorizing them. But, by listening closely, most of the tankers detected repetitions. The noise was being repeatedly blasted from a loud speaker. But they were unprepared for their unnerving from the first screaming minnie. German artillery fired a shell that screamed louder and louder until it sounded like it was inside their helmets…

Finally it passed harmlessly overhead. Those that followed had lost most of their effect.

Suddenly houses behind their tanks burst into bright flame silhouetting their tanks which quickly were backed to the safety of a sunken farm road. Only their turrets were exposed. It was still dark. Just as suddenly, a German patrol appeared, dressed in white camouflage suits with tall peaks. A shell set on delay and bounced off the ground disposed of that threat. Immediately a Panther tank arrived. James told the loader, Clarence Wilde, to keep loading armor piercing shells and that he was going to hit the tank as often as he could. Wilde never missed a beat. German guns were so powerful that they could shoot completely through American tanks. James’ first shell ricocheted straight up. The fifth shell struck the gun shield and glanced into the driver’s compartment.

The panther burst into flame never having fired a shot. One man jumped out the top hatch. The range had been about 40 yards.

Their tank commander had seen enough. He jumped out and ran into a house.

Driver Howard Harper came to the hatch and, standing exposed, gave James firing orders. The Germans sent several men with panzer faust weapons, football sized projectiles with thermal cores that burned through armor and exploded inside tanks.

The results were devastating, so the tankers were relieved to dispose of all three of them.

Panzer faust had disabled the other two tanks. Harper said, ‘It’s time to get out of here.’

He brought the displaced tankers to their tank, took over the gears, and bulldozed the knocked out tanks out of the way. Then, knocking off the corner of a house, they raced away at top speed. A shell hit a glancing blow to the side of their tank as they escaped to fight another day. By their aggressive action 13 of 15 tankers were saved from death or capture. Two days later the crew with a new commander lost their tank at the center of the town. Two men were killed. The remaining crew was sent to get a new tank.”

Regarding the battle, James remarked, “It’s a thing that happened 70 years ago, but it’s still very clear in my mind.”

Harper was the best man when James married Joan Happy. James, who is the only surviving member of his crew, later delivered a eulogy for Harper.

James is awaiting a letter of congratulations from the President of France. Next month, he will be recognized with the award at an official ceremony.

“I think it’s a very great honor,” said his wife Joan. She added that her husband gave up a lot to serve his country, but thankfully he did not have to give up his life.

James joined the service in 1941, went overseas two years later, and returned home in 1945. Six years later, he married his bride.

Mr. and Mrs. James have lived at Foxwood Springs for over ten years now, and they will celebrate 63 years of marriage in June.

 

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