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‘The bravest of the brave’

Alexandria man part of major US victory in ‘The Battle for Metz’

By Jim Palmer

Henry Boogaard of Alexandria was born on Feb. 19, 1920, and grew up on Traverse Lake near Browns Valley on the Minnesota-South Dakota border. He joined the U.S. Army in July 1942 at the age of 22. Little did he know that he would soon be helping his country win a major battle in World War II.

After basic training in Camp Swift, Texas, his Division (the 95th) the Division made stops at Camp Coxcomb in the California desert and the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania, among other stops, before moving into the staging area at Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts. Before being sent to war, final preparations were made, including several lectures on topics such as ship security, abandoning ship, censorship, finance, sanitation, conduct overseas, etc.

In August 1944, Henry and his unit boarded the USS West Point (formerly USS America) at the Boston Harbor and started their month-long voyage to the European Theater.

They arrived in Southhampton, a busy port on the south side of England.

Henry Boogaard, who grew up in Browns Valley and lived most of his life in Alexandria, fought with the 95th Division of the United States Army. He received the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action, among other accolades for his military service. Contributed photo

In mid-September, the Division moved to France and prepared to enter the combat line. The Division became a part of Lt. General George Patton’s Third Army, a part of the 20th “Ghost” Corps. On Nov. 8, 1944, it began its march into military history. Their mission: to take the fortress city of Metz, France. The Battle of Metz was a battle fought that fall. Strong German resistance resulted in heavy casualties for both sides (including more than 10,000 US soldiers). The city was eventually captured by U.S. forces ,and hostilities formally ceased on Nov. 22, with the last of the forts defending Metz surrendering on Dec. 13. Metz was the last big German stronghold in France.

The capture of Metz was a big achievement, and war correspondents nicknamed the men of the 95th “The Bravest of the Brave.” The German defenders gave them another name that the Division carried proudly, “The Iron Men of Metz.”

Henry had the following stories from his time in the European Theater:

• One day when they were cleaning out pockets of Germans hiding in buildings, basements, etc, a US soldier pulled the pin on a grenade and threw it with the intention to go through a window into a basement room. The grenade hit a bar that was covering the window, bounced back, and landed at Henry’s feet. Henry quickly ran and dove around the corner of the nearest building before it blew up.

• Henry said SS Troopers “never gave up. -- they fought until they died.”

• One time, Henry and the 95th Division were staying at a building, and they later learned that Germans were also staying in the same building, just on different ends of the building.

• For 8-9 months straight, Henry never slept in a bed and sometimes wore the same clothes for three weeks. During the campaign across Europe into Germany, it was very rainy and cold, which made conditions very uncomfortable.

• One night, the 95th Division was staying overnight in the basement of a shop on the main street of a town. The two or three men who were on guard fell asleep. A German patrol came through and killed them. Then they were able to throw grenades into the basement. Henry was fortunate to be far enough from the blast site and was not hurt.

The 95th fought in Europe for nearly a year, including 145 days of combat. At one stretch, they fought 100 continuous days. They captured more than 439 centers of population, including Germany’s ninth largest city, Dortmund.

In July 1945, the Division returned to the United States to welcoming celebrations at Boston Harbor. The re-training for the Pacific Theater had begun, but the atomic bombing of Japan brought surrender, and the “Iron Men” were not needed.

Several soldiers were honored for their contributions to the 95th. Henry received the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action on Nov. 20, 1944. He received the European Theater of Operations Medal with battle stars for Northern France, Rhineland, and Central Europe. He also received two letters of commendation, including one signed by Gen. Patton.

Henry married Susan Jackson in 1968 in Glenwood, Minn., and lived in Alexandria, Minn., until his death on April 24, 2002.

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