During the first attack on december 25th 1944, 36thAIR veteran Bob Kauffman witnessed something he would never forget: the death of soldiers Lester A. Wertman and Lt. Leonard Mellitz.
Bob pointed out the spot where they both got killed and each time we were standing there he said, that it was such a dreadfull site….Those two brave soldiers lying on a boxcar, killed by a tankgrenade. The horrifying thing for Bob was, that he had to pass that boxcar several times during the attacks on Grandmenil, and each time he saw the lifeless bodies of his buddies.
A couple of years ago, we had familymembers visiting the Grandmenil area. And we were hoping to give those men a face.
In august 2017 we got the first picture, the one of Lester Wertman.
Here are some exerpts form Bob’s memory:
“As the signal was given to move forward, the column began emerging from the cover of the woods. Ahead of us was a long descending roadway with the village of Grandmenil lying at the foot, already on fire from the artillery shells that were falling into it and the reports of the explosions echoing back and forth across the valley.”
Some time later on the same day: “Occupying the tank on the left side of the intersection as we entered the edge of the village was an officer by the name of Capt. Jordan. He had ordered Lt. Mellitz to have our unit push further into the village […] As we waited there to form up, there was a further exchange between Jordan and Mellitz. Mellitz called over to Jordan and asked him if he intended to send his tanks with us. Jordan replied that they would not be going with us, whereupon Mellitz asked “Then what will we have for support?” Jordan responded, “You have your rifles!” The reply that Mellitz then made would become his epitaph. “I’ll do it, but I don’t like it!” Within less than five minutes after he uttered that remark, he would be dead.
After that conversation between Mellitz and Jordan, Lt. Mellitz formed us up and he led off with several men on the left side of the street and a few of us on the right, in the opening stages of this new attack. We hadn’t moved more than a few yards down both sides of the street into the village when there was an explosion of unusual force. It must have been a round of high explosive from a nearby German tank. That shell left Lt. Mellitz dead, as well as a man by the name of Lester Wertman, and a number of our men wounded, so the attack never really got under way.”
In the last day of the attack, Bob stated: “Within a very few minutes we again were on our way down that roadway, this time in the daylight, moving at a very quickened pace. The whole valley was now shrouded in smoke, giving us some degree of protection. No sooner did we reach the edge of the village, when again we were greeted with heavy machine gun fire. The tanks, along with a few Bazooka rounds eventually silenced some of them, and we moved through quite rapidly. Once again we would have to pass the bodies of Lt. Mellitz and Wertman. The body of one man lay fallen over the hitch of a small trailer that had been abandoned in a previous engagement; the other man was right beside him.”
Lester Allen Wertman was born 20 march 1921 in Lynn Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
On january 1st 1942 Lester married Ida S. E. Hartman.
Their daughter Darlene was born 22 March 1943.
Lester Wertman enlisted in the Army 1 June 1944, at New Cumberland, PA, and died 25 December 1944, in Grandmenil, Belgium.
Lester is burried at Henri Chapelle, in Belgium, plot D; row 12; grave 56.
His wife, Ida, never remarried and passed away on september 2016 at the age of 93.
Leonard Mellitz was born on july 14th 1918, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. He is burried on Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield. He also died on december 25th in Grandmenil, Belgium.
In may 1990 Bob Kauffman brought an American flag on behalf of the daughter of Lester Wertman, Darlene, and presented it to the town. “This flag is given in loving memory of her father Lester Wertman, who died here in this village, is burried here in Belgium soil and in his death, he has become a son of Grandmenil,” Bob said during the ceremony in front of the Church in may 1990.
To us it is very important to give these brave young men a face.
Lest we forget…..
May they rest in peace.
Many thanks to Ron Dannecker and Jan Ploeg
– Bob Kauffman’s “The Replacement”.
– Newsletter of the Wertman Family Association