“I crossed the Saar at Echternach and drove to Bitburg…it showed the tremendous difficulties overcome by the 76th Division in forcing the Siegfried line.
”From one point on the road along which the 76th Division had successfully advanced, fifteen pillboxes were visible in addition to dragon’s teeth and anti-tank ditches. Yet this relatively green division went through them.”
Frank Mucedola (1921-2007) served as a Tech Sergeant in I-304-76. A musician in civilian life, he established the Frank Mucedola Accordian School in Auburn, New York and has toured with the world-renowned Mantovani Orchestra.
The following article originally ran in The Auburn Citizen August 24, 2003.
The 76th Infantry Division received its “Baptism of Fire” during the battle of the Bulge.
After crossing into Germany from Belgium and Luxembourg, the division was the spearhead of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army final drive across central Germany and were among the first troops to make contact with the Soviet Red Army in the vicinity of Chemnitz, Germany, in May 1945.
The 76th Division had gone further east into Germany than any other American unit.
When Germany was divided into East and West, the 76th Division found itself in the East and was subsequently pulled back into the Western Zone.
However, between May and August 1945, when the Russians arrived, the 76th Division was on occupation duty in Schmolln, Thuringen, Germany.
From August 1945 until the Berlin wall fell, schools in occupied East Germany were required to teach students that Germany had been liberated from the Nazis by “The Glorious Red Army.”
The pre-1945 generation knew better, but kept silent out of fear of reprisals.
When the 76th Division was relieved of its occupation duties in August 1945, it was deactivated and its troops were reassigned to other units slated for the invasion of Japan which, for a brief time, was still at war with the United States.
Fortunately, that assignment never materialized as the atomic bomb ended the war and the troops were sent home.
Many years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the people of Schmolln in the former East Germany wanted to correct what they knew was a historical lie. They were not liberated from the Nazis by the Soviet Army, but by the 76th Infantry Division of the United States Army.
On April 13, 2003, the people of Schmolln erected a memorial to the 76th Division to show their appreciation.
I am one of the nine Auburnians who served in the 76th Infantry Division during World War II and am grateful that the people of Schmolln have honored us with their thoughtfulness.
Auburnians who served in the 76th Division in WWII
George P. Diehl Paul J. DiFabion Ronald P. Hart Robert T. Mott Frank Mucedola James Napoli George T Ryan James Smith Paul A. Tripociano
Pictures from a 2003 Veterans Tour that included Schmölln.
Inscription on plaque:
THIS PLAQUE RESPECTFULLY PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE OF SCHMOLLN, THURINGEN, GERMANY BY THE 76TH INFANTRY DIVISION AND COMPANY I, 304TH INFANTRY REGIMENT
UNITED STATES ARMY WHO SERVED IN THIS CITY FROM MAY TO JULY 1945 “THANK YOU FOR REMEMBERING US” 76TH INFANTRY DIVISION ASSOCIATION APRIL 13, 2003
In 2010 David Keefe, a US Marine and grandson to Richard Keefe (I-304-76), visited Schmölln to honor his Grandfather’s service in the War and to see the plaque firsthand. Here’s the video he took.
Brig. Gen. Don Rue Hickman was the original Captain of I-304-76. He’s the Captain they trained with at Camp McCoy before going overseas, and the Captain they first saw battle with going into the Siegfried Line in February of 1945. In March of 1945 Hickman would be transferred up to the 304th Battalion to be replaced as Captain of Company I by then Lt. Donald Katz (who would be promoted to Captain).
The following article appeared in Utah’s Daily Herald September 28, 2005 in honor of Don Rue Hickman after his death.
General Loses Battle With Cancer, Declines Arlington by Heidi Toth
Retired Brig. Gen. Don Rue Hickman did many memorable things in his life. He was a highly decorated veteran of three wars, he played college basketball and he wrote an autobiography.
But what his daughters loved most about their father was his relationship with their mother. He treated his wife of 53 years like a queen from the day he got married until Saturday September 24, 2005, when he died of cancer. Watching that made his four children realize how important their mother was.
DeAnn Giles, Mary Higbee, Pamela Norris and Judy Clark all returned to Provo and gathered with family members, including their mother, LoRee Hickman, to remember, honor and say goodbye to their father, who had battled cancer for 11 years. They returned here because Hickman had given up his plot in Arlington National Cemetery so he could be buried in his home state of Utah, close enough to BYU to enjoy the football games.
“He was the most avid BYU fan you could know,” said his grandson, Joseph Higbee.
Hickman also was a great patriot, Clark said. He served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, rising from a drafted private to a general before retiring to Utah. She always remembers her father when she hears Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” on the radio.
“Every time I get to that I think it’s men like him that make it so we can sleep in peace tonight,” she said.
That loyalty stretched to aspects of his life, and his family’s life, as well.
“He wanted us to always sustain our leaders, because they’re doing the very best they can,” Giles said.
“Even if he didn’t agree with them politically, he’d always sustain them,” Norris added.
Despite his years in the military, most of it spent commanding others, Hickman did not bring his military style home with him, Higbee said.
“Even though he was an officer in three wars, he was able to set that aside as a father and be tender and kind and not demanding as he might be with soldiers,” she said.
He also stressed honesty and integrity to his daughters, and helped them to love and learn their heritage. Hickman loved people; Norris said when he was on trips as a general, he would stop at people’s homes who needed help or had contacted him about something.
An interesting thing about her father’s career was that he never planned to be in the military, his daughters said. He planned to coach and teach. Then he was drafted.
“He told himself, ‘You’re going to follow through or fall apart,’ ” Clark said. “He made a decision to be strong.”