Honor to my grandfather John Swedick
Matthew SWEDICK, Associate Member
President of Hudson Valley Chapter
In World War II, my Grandfather John Swedick was a private with the 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, “K” Company. He entered the Army in March of 1944, at Camp Wheeler in Macon Georgia. Camp Wheeler was an Infantry Replacement Training Center where new recruits received basic and advanced individual training to replace combat casualties. In September of 1944, Pvt Swedick was shipped off to Europe.
On October 30, 1944, Pvt Swedick joined his unit near Lutzkampen, Germany, where his unit spent a month and a half fending off skirmishes from the Germans and building up defenses in the area. On December 12th, Pvt Swedick’s regiment moved up to Elsenborn, Belgium in a reserve position, again building up defenses in that area, while the rest of the Second Division headed for an attack on the Roer Dams. While in that reserve position on the morning of December 16th, the 23rd Infantry Regiment was called east to back up the 99th Infantry Division, whose lines had just been bombarded by German artillery and were now being penetrated by German infantry. What was first thought of as a local skirmish in response to the Allied attacks in the north toward the Roer Dams, the attack on the 99th Infantry Division’s position was but a part of a major German offensive orchestrated by Adolf Hitler himself, now historically known as the Battle of the Bulge. Hitler had a plan to drive his forces west to Antwerp and divide the Allied armies and cut off supply lines. He was hoping to force a peace treaty in the west.
On the night of December 16th, the 23rd Infantry Regiment was trucked into the frontlines, and immediately upon arrival, the unit was littered with artillery shells and sustained some losses. Due to the darkness and the lack of intelligence as to the enemy’s position and the terrain, the regiment was ordered to dig in for the night. On the morning of the 17th, the regiment was ordered to move forward to reinforce the line that the 99th Infantry Division was losing. As the 23rd moved forward, the remnants of the 99th were retreating back through their lines. As infantrymen of the 99th came through, soldiers of the 23rd took weapons and ammunition from the retreating unit. (It was the common feeling among the Allies after the D Day invasion in June that the War would be over by Christmas. As such, many units were not fully equipped with the proper winter clothing, weaponry, or ammunition. As such, much of the unit going in that night were not properly equipped for what the Germans were about to throw at them.)
The 23rd’s position was on the northern shoulder of the Bulge and played a crucial role in Hitler’s drive towards Antwerp. The 23rd was burdened with the role of holding off the German offensive in that area until the remaining regiments from the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions could be brought back down from the Roer Dams to reinforce the line. For hours, individual units of the 23rd Infantry Regiment repelled attacks by the German Tiger tanks and infantry. However, the 23rd was outnumbered and outgunned, having only two tanks and a limited amount of anti-tank guns at their disposal. Finally, on about the sixth or seventh attack, the Germans started pushing forward, and the 23rd started to sustain major losses. The order to retreat came through to the individual units, my Grandfather’s included. However, he and six other infantrymen of the platoon ignored the order and chose to stay and cover their retreating unit. As the German tanks approached they fired point blank into the foxholes with artillery and machine gun fire.
My Grandfather, Private John Swedick exited his foxhole with fixed bayonet and rushed towards the German infantry. When last seen, he had closed with the enemy and was engaged in bitter hand to hand combat. After that time, mid-afternoon December 17, 1944, my grandfather was declared missing in action and presumed dead. His body was recovered some days later as the Allies pushed back through the lines towards Germany. His death along with the six others was chronicled in a January 1945 Stars and Stripes newspaper article.
While the Siege of Bastogne is often credited as the central point where the German offensive was stopped, the battle for Elsenborn Ridge was a decisive component of the Battle of the Bulge, deflecting the strongest armored units of the German advance. The attack was led by one of the best equipped German divisions on the western front. Historian John S.D. Eisenhower wrote, “... the action of the 2nd and 99th Divisions on the northern shoulder could be considered the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign.”
For my grandfather’s “heroic and self-sacrificing decision to hold his position ‘at all costs’” and allow the remaining platoon and company to safely withdraw that fateful day of December 17th, my grandfather was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal, the United States third highest military decoration for valor awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
He also was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal, Belgian Fourragere, Honorable Service Lapel Pin and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Service Stars (Rhineland Campaign and Ardennes-Alsace Campaign). For his regiment’s extraordinary heroism in action in those opening days of the Battle of the Bulge, the 23rd Infantry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation along with the Belgian Fourragère.
At the time of his death, my grandfather was living in Watervliet and worked as a chauffeur for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. in Albany. He left behind a wife and two children, one being my father.
This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a battle which took nearly 20,000 American lives in about a month’s time, but a battle which depleted the German war machine and put the Allies on track to end the war three months later.
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