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World War II Honor Roll

Joseph C. Fournier

Private First Class, U.S. Army

32957492

Company L
142nd Infantry Regiment
36th Infantry Division

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: December 15, 1944
Buried at: Section F Site 1570
                  Beverly National Cemetery
                  916 Bridgeboro Road 
                  Beverly NJ 08010          
Awards: Purple Heart


PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH C. FOURNIER was born on March 11, 1913, to Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Fournier Sr. As a youth he lived in Gloucester City NJ, where he attended St. Mary's grammar and high school, where he was a member of the basketball team. During the late 1920s and 1930s the family lived at 539 Cedar Street in North Camden. His brother, Wilfred Jr., lived at 424 Bailey Street and was a member of the North Camden Young Republicans Club.

By April of 1930 Joseph Fournier had gone to work as a messenger at the RCA Victor factory, and was still employed there, as a checking clerk, when he went into the service on September 6, 1940 at Camden NJ. Assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, he took part in the landings at Salerno, Italy in September of 1943 and Southern France in 1944. 

Private Fournier was killed in action in France on December 15, 1944 when the German forces went on the offensive at Selestat. He was survived by his mother and siblings, his father having passed away February 13, 1944.

After the war, his body was returned to the United States, and he was buried at Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly NJ on May 19, 1948. His mother was then living at 420 State Street in Camden.


INTO ALSACE

It was a wearing war of attrition from Bruyeres until the doughfeet broke out into the Alsatian plain after having crossed the swollen Meurthe River and forced the SainteMarie passes to Selestat and Ribeauville. Even after ninety two consecutive days of combat in France, they battered their way through the passes, in an assault on the hitherto considered impregnable Vosges massif. In thirteen days, they forced the narrowest and steepest pass in the Vosges Mountains against almost fanatical opposition. Holding a line extending an almost unheard of eighty kilometers, they captured almost eighteen hundred prisoners in attacks often made without any supporting armor whatsoever, so tangled was the terrain.

The attack began near Saint Leonard, on the Meurthe River. The 143rd attacked across the river on November 21, encountering heavy resistance from troops concealed in elaborate trench systems, the approaches to which were mined and heavily snarled with barbed wire obstacles. Traps and ditches prevented armored reconnaissance, and previously conducted feints had forced the enemy into drawing on his limited reserves and placing them in this section of the line. Nevertheless, in three days of grueling combat, the infantry battered its way into the network of defenses, until the enemy withdrew under severe pressure.

Motorized and armored, the 142nd jumped forward to exploit the breakthrough, driving back a desperate, lastditch stand by the Germans near Haut Mandray. Pushing its advantage, the First Battalion moved towards La Croix, contested by groups of Germans blocking the precipitous, tortuous road that traversed the vicious terrain.

The seizing of Sainte Marie itself was a highly involved, dangerous undertaking. The only road to the town passed through an extremely narrow defile, flanked by wild growth on harsh ridges. It was a country which lent itself to easy defense by very few troops; and the fully garrisoned, strengthened positions were so situated that they could only be attacked by a minimum number of men. While Love Company attacked the outer defenses, the remainder of the Third Battalion marched across the crag climbing mountain trails to take the town. So complete was the surprise, that the town fell, although its defenders were not overcome until several hours of street fighting.

Barely a few hours after Sainte Marie had fallen, the First Battalion made a circuitous maneuver through terrain so difficult that it was wholly impossible for any armor or even the lightest vehicles to support the attack. The Germans had rushed reinforcements forward from Selestat, however, and before the First Battalion could complete its mission and seize Sainte Croix, the Second Battalion had to advance along the main road in a frontal assault. Sainte Croix fell; Hoch Koenigsburg fell to the Third Battalion, and the road was open to Selestat, which was taken shortly after.

As the lines extended, the 141st Regimental Combat Team was emplaced along the right flank of the Division, while the 143rd pushed on into Ribeauville and the small towns gathered in a semicircle between it and Colmar.

No army had ever accomplished so much before. Somewhat less than an army, the 36th Division did it. Reorganized regiment by regiment, as the incessant struggles tore its ranks, tired after so long a period of arduous campaigning, it still had spark enough to drive across the last remaining barriers and begin its debouchment into the Rhine Valley. That the men managed to stand the grueling beatings which marked every slight encounter with the enemy was remarkable. Their resources were low, but their commanders could proudly boast that when something had to be done, their men had the guts to go out and do it. The climax came at Selestat and Riquewihr.

On the morning of December 13, the Germans switched from the defensive and smashed with all their strength at the flanks of the 36th Division line.

The first assault came in the early morning at the very left of the Texans' line, in the city of Selestat. Given close support by tanks and tank destroyers and the 105 mm howitzers known as "Pete Green's Mortars" after the 132nd's CO, the 142 Regimental Combat Team held. The Germans struck with elements of two divisions, better than a thousand infantrymen, but they were driven off with massed firepower after over twelve hours of bitter fighting. The Germans lost three hundred and thirty-three prisoners, and reconnaissance units later on the battlefield found twenty-six bazookas, thirty rifles, and ten machine guns that the evacuating Germans had discarded.

It was of this attack which Heinrich Himmler later reminded the defenders of Sigolsheim in an official order. "What the Americans did in Selestat, you can do in Sigolsheim," he wrote.

But the main assault broke during the middle of the morning around Riquewihr, where the CP of the 141st Regimental Combat Team was located. The main German thrust was aimed directly at that town. Five hundred Germans infiltrated two kilometers up a draw from the west, overrunning a chemical mortar platoon which had set up in the draw. Retreating into the town, the mortar men called for fire from their other platoon, located on the other side of town. Then they launched an attack of their own, supported by some volunteering wiremen from regimental headquarters, and pushed the Germans back to retake every mortar they had lost.

The infiltrating Germans had been spotted by Cpl. Harry Karpan, Ventura, Cal., from his observation post in a tower in the middle of town. As he called fire down on them, the enemy spotted him and raked his position with small arms and machine gun fire. He called for heavy artillery and brought down a concentration on the draw, forcing the Germans to disperse along the ridges on either side.

Had they but known it, the Germans could have silenced him with a pair of pliers. A wire team from the 131st Field Artillery Battalion, led by Sgt. Bob Stamford, Tex., had sent up communications a bare quarter-hour before the attack had begun, and their wire lay, exposed, through the draw in which the T-Patchers were scrapping it out with the Germans. The wire was never cut, and Cpl. Karpan and Sgt. Kearney Haas, Comfort, Tex., called down a bingo mission from three battalions of artillery that secured the area. It also cut the wire, but the enemy had evacuated.

Small groups of Kraut officer candidates had managed to sneak into Riquewihr, however. While the First Battalion of the 141st, machine guns to the fore, ripped into the scattered enemy in fierce firefighting—at some places hand to hand combat developed in the storm, at others there were pointblank shooting frays, these squads tried to establish a foothold in the town. Combat Correspondent Pfc. Clarence Lasky, Portland, Conn., left his typewriter for a carbine, rounded a corner, and took three prisoners. Regimental cook Pvt. Ralph Inglese, Brooklyn, N.Y., left his kitchen to help in the defense of the command post, wounded two more and took them prisoner.

But the Germans had not put all their eggs in one basket. As this attack grew in fury, a second prong, two hundred strong, swung in from the south, struck at and severed the supply line of the Second Battalion.

The Third Battalion had to turn and face an attack that had already gained momentum. I. Company led a drive to free the route to the rear while the other companies tenaciously battled to slow up and halt the enemy. The story was the same. The enemy were tough youngsters, seventeen to nineteen years old with no battle experience. They had close mortar and artillery support, but they did not use it. They tried to intercept the Third Battalion by surprise.

Both battles around Riquewihr continued ferociously all day. But while the assault at Selestat died out, the effort to smash the right flank continued to develop. A party of forty engineer officer candidates infiltrated to cut the road between the 36th Division Command Post and its rear. Enemy from this party involved members of the 133rd Field Artillery Battalion in a fire fight. The enemy had been sent in with a double mission: to block the road and to knock out the artillery. Under cover of terrific automatic weapons fire, demolition experts set their charges, blew up one howitzer and some ammunition. In a nearby building, Sgt. Theodore King, Linden, Tex., massed the small arms fire from his section in an attempt to cut down the enemy before more damage could be done. A jeep was blown up by a bazooka. The house in which Sgt. King's men had tried to establish a strong point was set on fire in two places. Antiaircraft gunner Cpl. Albert Wagner, Chicago, Ill., eased over to his multiple fifty calibre mount, fired eleven hundred rounds from the four machine guns into the surrounding area. The leaden spray silenced the German small arms.

The Germans went on to the second part of their mission. Having halted traffic along the main road to the rear, they signaled for two companies of infantry which, according to plan, were to infiltrate the same gap in the lines used by the engineers and come to support the road block. The Second Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, thrown into the gap, blocked this attempt to disrupt completely the rear area. A severe fire fight erupted.

Along the front, the Germans continued to attack. Heavy artillery was brought into play. Ribeauville and the Division Headquarters were shelled. Road blocks were established to block an enemy attack from further along the front, but the Germans had enough. The larger group, which had attempted to come in from the west, was thrown back with over one hundred of its men left dead on the battle ground. The entire day of the fourteenth was spent with all available troops centered before Riquewihr, and the attack slowed considerably. Six infantry battalions were thrown at the enemy, supported by every piece of artillery. German units had taken hills 351 and 393 between Riquewihr and Colmar, continued on to erect strong points in the small town of Minnwihr. But that afternoon saw the tired doughfeet fight the Germans to a complete standstill.

That day also saw the cessation of German activity in the rear area. One Company from the 111th Engineer Combat Battalion, thrown into the lines to act as infantry, prevented their rejoining their lines as a group, and the enemy had to split forces. Traffic was reopened along the road, which was patrolled by engineers and controlled by members of the 36th Division Military Police stationed on road blocks at the crossroads.

The next day, seven battalions of infantry from three regiments started an offensive of their own. The veterans of the 36th Division very slowly began to move the Germans out of their positions. Relentlessly, but aching in every tired limb, the doughboys carried forward in a brave attempt to erase the German gains. They restored most of Minnwihr, they climbed the slopes of 351 and 393, they plugged every gap in the line. The Germans, in turn, threw heavy artillery and mortar concentrations against them. Artillery fire crunched the streets of every town within range, and mortars unceasingly harassed the infantry. Deep mine fields blocked the path. Rockets were thrown into the scrap. For three days the Germans had their day—from the thirteenth to the sixteenth of December they threw everything in the book at the infantrymen. They didn't miss their chance, but it was fought out from under them by the gutty fighting men of the 36th Division.

The Third Infantry Division began the relief of the 36th in this Colmar sector on December 19, and the 141st Regimental Combat Team trucked up to Strasbourg to take over part of the quiet Rhine River line there. It was soon followed by the rest of the Division.

The capital of Alsace, Strasbourg, over whose liberation the members of the French Senate had wept, was just across the Rhine from the Germans, yet Strasbourg was peaceful compared to the rest of Germany bordering France. The people roamed the streets. There was beer, and wine a plenty. There were young girls, pretty and well dressed, not the frightened, dumpy women of Selestat. Strasbourg was a thoroughly civilized city and not a bad place to be for Christmas.


Camden
Courier-Post

May 19, 1948


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