Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

One of my favorite artifacts in the Tipton County Museum is a Nazi flag.

Yes, you read that right… A 5.5′ x 3.5′ Reichskriegsflagge  –  a German Imperial War Flag.

But no, it’s probably not for the reason you may be thinking of.

Many people when they come into the Museum, steer clear of the flag. They seem to be afraid of it and they actually go around it, trying not to let their eyes be drawn to it. But when I see that, I have to go up to them and introduce them to my favorite artifact.

To most people, the flag represents one of the most heinous periods of human history, but by the same token, if you ignore the flag, you miss out on one of the most amazing stories of perseverance and righteousness.

On the flag, hidden in plain sight, are the names of the 74 soldiers who captured the flag as a war trophy and brought it back to America, as proof of their defeat of the Third Reich. The soldiers, the majority of them no older than boys, were members of companies A, B, C, and D, later designated as the 382nd, 383rd and 384th, respectively, Medical Collecting Companies (also known as Ambulance Motor Companies) and the 684th Medical Clearing Company. The companies were a part of the 53rd Medical Battalion, 136th Medical Regiment, 34th Division. 

The 53rd Medical Battalion departed the United States on Feb. 19, 1942, from New York on the USS Neville (APA-9), a United States Navy attack transport ship. Built for duty during World War I, her departure from the New York Port of Embarkation was her first trans-oceanic run of the second world war and she had on board hundreds of young Americans, many who would not return to her shores.

The battalion arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 2, 1942, where the various units and detachments of the battalion were sent where they were needed. The 74 men named on the flag, landed as a part of the 53rd Medical Battalion in Normandy, France between D plus 1 and D plus 7 in support of V Corps, where they served for the duration of the war.  They saw action during the Battle of Saint-Lo, and participated in the liberation of Paris, where they helped evacuate over 300 Allied casualties who were being held as prisoners of war in hospitals within the city. They followed troop movements to the West Wall, or Siegfried Line, as the Allies called it, and were able to evacuate more than 180 patients and escape capture when they found themselves isolated at Heppenbach, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

The battalion marched hundreds of miles through France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Their daily routine consisted of scheduled ambulance runs and the treatments of minor sick and wounded. In March 1944 alone, more than 775 patients were transported through war torn battlefields and over 600 patients treated. That same month, the men of the 53rd Medical Battalion covered a distance of 431 miles. They participated in the Battle of Germany, (Sept -Dec 1944) where they learned that supplies coming from the rear were often non-existent, and had to rely on captured German medicinals, blankets and litters to keep the chain of evacuation moving. In February 1945, the companies were assisting an average of 99 patients a day and they helped evacuate and treat POWs when they were liberated from German POW camps.

The 74 men of the 53rd Medical Battalion came from all walks of life. When you read their names, you’ll see that many are Italian and Jewish names. The majority of them were immigrants or first generation Americans. Some served because they were drafted and some because they wanted too. But they all served their country because they understood that Adolf Hitler had to be stopped.

The 53rd Medical Battalion was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit plaque for superior performance of duty in the accomplishments of their exceptionally difficult task, as well as Bronze Service Stars for the Normandy Campaign. Many of the men also received individual awards for their bravery.

The flag on display at the Tipton County Museum is not one to be feared or repelled by. It has history and lessons that need to be remembered. One, that we never forget the atrocities that occurred during WWII and continually take steps so they are not repeated, and two, to remember that it is because of brave young men like the 74 named, that evil was defeated.

Personally, I like to think that those young men were essentially giving Hitler the finger while saying, “To hell with you Hitler! We captured your flag and we’re making it ours now!”

The 74 brave young men of the 53rd Medical Battalion whose names are written on the flag are:

  • Pvt. Otho Taylor
  • Sgt. James Savastano,
  • Corp. Pat [Patrick A] Paris
  • Pvt. Ralph J. Simon – Stacyville, Iowa
  • Carlos Porras – Route 1, Box 30J, Wasco, Cali.
  • PFC. Ben [R] Behrens
  • Pvt. Harvey [C] Alford –  Harpursville, NY
  • Rip Shoemaker
  • Pvt. 1C Stephen [J] Lukas
  • Pvt. John [H] Wallerich
  • Pvt John Shumaker
  • Pvt. Royce [W] O’Brien
  • Pvt. Charles Robison
  • Pvt. Gilbert [J] Chanti
  • Gary Flippo
  • PFC Nicholas Elnicky
  • Pvt. Joe Scerbo
  • Bennedict Delmonico
  • Corp John [C] Benson
  • Pvt. Harry [Harold J] Flood
  • Clarence Airhart
  • PFC William [F] Callan
  • PFC Jerome [P] Giblin
  • Pvt. Romie Lopes
  • Staff Sgt Donald [D] Brugger
  • Lamar Gordon
  • PFC Jimmy [Vincent J] Fonti
  • Pvt Mathew Sarra
  • Pvt Bill [William E] Herrick
  • Pvt Santo Plazzo
  • Pvt Glenn [K] Walters
  • PFC Jerry [Jerome P] Faraci
  • Pvt Frank Contillo
  • PFC Charles Hendrickson
  • Bill Himes
  • PFC Robert Scherbaum
  • Pvt Frank [L] Heeren
  • Alvin Ball
  • Vincent Guagliardo
  • James Alexander
  • Pvt Edward [T] Jones
  • Jake Ellison
  • PFC Ed [Edward E] Fairclough
  • Sgt Thomas [F] Hale
  • Walter Williams
  • PFC Edwin [H] Chattin
  • PFC Henry [W] Dkystra
  • Sgt Harry [W] Lindbloom
  • PFC Pete [Peter C] Williams
  • PFC Louie [Louis] Solometo
  • Pvt Mike [Michael G] Durcanin
  • PFC Henry [C] Kee
  • Pete O. Trapani
  • Capt Sam [Samuel H] Malivuk, [M.C.]
  • PFC Clarence Jeffery
  • Pvt John [E] Lesynski
  • PFC Walt [Walter H] Potorski
  • PFC Max Rosen
  • PFC Frances Vogler
  • Bill Mulhelland
  • Pvt Lefty [William M] Olszewski
  • Pvt Francis [C] Kramer
  • Pvt Nate [Nathan L] Hartley
  • Pvt Rufus [W] Taylor
  • Benny Gicalese
  • Leon Mack
  • PFC Karl [W] Kiefer
  • PFC Elmer Decann
  • Pvt Harvey Thompson
  • Pvt Jes [Jessie G] Poindexter
  • Pvt Scott [M] Voyles
  • Leroy Rogers
  • Luke Lund
  • Anthony Pope

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