Three years had past since Hubie's death in March of 1945. In the Spring of 1948, the US announced the formal program to return World War Two dead from foreign soil. At that time most countries just left their dead where they were, but the US through an Act of Congress ensured families had the option to have their boys returned. The cost of the project was estimated at $500 Million and would last 18 months. There were 454 burial sites around the world in 86 Countries and islands. France alone had 24 US Burial Grounds. The next of kin had 3 choices available: 1) return the body to the US and be buried in a National Cemetery like Arlington, 2) return the body to a private cemetery in the US or 3) remain buried in their current foreign cemetery, if it was designated as permanent, as St. Avold was. But in many countries the cemeteries were only temporary, and the US government declared that all bodies now buried in China, Burma, India, The Malay states and the Dutch East Indies, all islands in the Pacific except Hawaii and many other locations would all be sent home. Liberty and Victory Class Ships designated for this honorary transport of these soldiers were painted white with a purple band around the hull. The caskets were all walnut stained, each covered with an American Flag. Each burial ship carried between 6,500 and 7,000 war dead. All European Theater of War Ships returned to New York ( Brooklyn Harbor) and all Pacific War ships returned to San Francisco. At this time, there were still many who remained "Missing in Action" and about 4000 who were buried in foreign locations with no identification. Keep in mind that over 400,000 in total had died in World War II.
August and Hulda had to wait patiently for a letter from the US Army on whether or not Hubie might be sent home. They saw many articles in the newspapers announcing this major relocation of boys who had died outside of the US. They cut out every article they saw and added it to Hubie's scrapbook. 20,000 families across the USA were waiting for their letter. Finally August and Hulda received their letter in the summer of 1948 and they requested that Hubie be sent home to be buried at their local Freistatt Church. Many relatives of others who were buried at St. Avold made the same decision to send their boy home. But even so, today 10,489 Soldiers remained buried at St. Avold of the 16,000 originally there at the end of WW2 in 1945.
Picture of friend Doris Lampe, Hubert carried with him
The August and Hulda Kleiboeker Family 1938/39:
From Left, Hubert, Leona, Lorene, Elda, Lorn, Hulda, Eveyln, August, Vera, Martin, Meta, Alvin
Transport to Europe and France Jan 6th to Jan 21, 1945
Hubie's Confirmation Photo
August and Hulda Kleiboeker Family Portrait taken in 1945.
Back Row from Left: Lorene, Alvin, Meta, Elda, Leona, Martin, Vera.
Front Row from Left: Lorn, Hulda, August, Evelyn
In a letter dated May 18,1945, Chaplain Grapatin wrote to Pastor Stuenkel , pastor of the Freistatt church: "It was really a wonderful coincidence that Hubert and I were at the Rest Camp at the same time. I invited him to come to my room any time he wished, and he was there some of the time every day. He attended every one of the Church Services I had while I was there, and also took Communion before he returned to his unit. Hubert was the first Lutheran of our immediate Freistatt Circle that I had seen since I left Monett on August 9, 1942. We spent many hours together talking about activities in Freistatt, the Church, Walther League, etc. I know he enjoyed it as much as I did. To me, it was very refreshing, as it was first hand information about people I knew and hadn't seen for over two and a half years. I took Hubert along on the little trips I made in the vicinity of our camp, and we made comparisons of that country with Freistatt. We both enjoyed it very much."
Hubie enjoying time with his 18 month old nephew, David Kleiboeker, before being drafted
Hubie was part of a group of 10 Friestatt young men who were inducted into the Army at Fort Leavenworth, KS in August 1944. All 10 were assigned to the same Company A of the 150th at Camp Hood (named after James B Hood, a Confederate General) in Texas for basic training at the "Infantry Replacement Training Center". Six of these 10 were directly related, and the six achieved some limited fame by appearing in a Camp Hood Newspaper Article - see below. All ten trained together from August 20th to December 19th, 1944.
Article in Camp Hood Newspaper where the Journalist who wrote the article admits he was "completely dazed" in trying to untangle the "family muddle" of the Kleiboeker and Holle Cousins. Despite interviewing the six soldiers, he still did not get it correct as he states that Hubert and Vernon Kleiboeker are brothers, when they were actually first cousins.
Earl Reitan concludes: "The disaster at Utweiler began as a failure of intelligence. The division had recently moved to a new and unfamiliar sector of the front. German resistance was not anticipated prior to reaching the Siegfried Line, (which was a few miles further inside the German border and the mine field) and for that reason the strong German concentration of infantry and armor at Utweiler was completely unexpected. Mine sweeping efforts prior to the attack were rather casual. Too much reliance was placed on the mine-sweeping activities of the 44th Division, which was probably not much interested in clearing a path for another outfit. Over-confidence was a factor: although Gen. O’Daniel sensed early that the Second Battalion was in trouble, the regimental commander was slow to respond. When the village was occupied, the lack of adequate preparation for a possible German counterattack reflected a failure of leadership.
Although the Third Division and 7th Infantry were experienced outfits with a superb cadre, the 300 or more stragglers who were rounded up in the next two days shows that morale was low. In the darkness, confusion, shelling, and mines, the many stragglers suggest that they did not make much effort to get into Utweiler. Those soldiers who got there relaxed while waiting for the tanks. The tankers were quick to make excuses, leaving the infantry without armored support. The 7th Infantry’s own mine-sweeping units seem to have taken their time about clearing the roads. Morale can break down in victory, as well as defeat.
In the larger picture, the setback at Utweiler was a minor one. The Third Battalion of the 7th Infantry quickly avenged the losses inflicted on the Second Battalion. The Second Battalion was reconstituted with survivors and replacements, and continued to do its part to the end of the war. The Third Division broke through the Siegfried Line in the next few days and drove all the way to Nürnberg, Munich, and Berchtesgaden, the heart of Adolph Hitler’s evil Reich. And, as always, the riflemen were on the cutting edge."
On these Liberty and Victory Ships, the military regarded service personnel remains not as cargo, but as passengers whose names appeared on a “Passenger List, Deceased” aboard all Army Transportation Corps ships that brought the dead from overseas. That status also applied aboard mortuary rail cars that transported the soldiers from the US harbor to their final destination. The Army paid railroads a special reduced fare for each repatriated casualty and, for guards and military escorts, as with any troop movement, the regular fare. Congress gave the Army until December 31, 1951, to finish repatriation, including search, recovery, identification, transport, and burial. Beginning in 1947, the Army Transportation Corps took delivery of 118 specially modified mortuary rail cars. These all had originated as wartime hospital cars—standard heavyweight parlor, lounge, and observation cars, plus a few sleeping cars and one railroad business car, that had been converted into hospital ward, ward-dressing, and unit cars between 1941 and 1943. Workers gutted each interior, removed unneeded underbody equipment, and installed three-level roller-equipped storage racks to accommodate containers holding remains. As mortuary trains left the station, Army Depot Centers were receiving messages from port personnel on the number of remains being shipped, the railroad and train numbers, military identification number, date and hour of shipment, and estimated time of arrival.
This information was then distributed widely to national and local media about who was on each ship and railroad car. The Newspaper article shown here (one of many collected by the Kleiboeker Family on this shipment issue) states that Hubert was "returned to the US from Europe on the US Army Transport Carroll Victory (Ship)" and expected in about 2 weeks. Another Nov. 15, 1948 article stated that "the Carroll Victory ship carrying the bodies of 7,600 Americans killed in Europe in World War II docked tonight at the Brooklyn Army Base. The Army said this was the sixteenth and largest shipment of war dead to be returned from any theater of operations....Memorial Services for the returning dead are to be held tomorrow at the (Brooklyn) army base."
It was appropriate for Hubert to come home on that Carroll Ship. Prior to being commissioned as a war dead transport ship, from 1945 to 1947 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren sent livestock to war-torn countries. These "seagoing cowboys" made about 360 trips on 73 different ships. The Heifers for Relief project was started by the Church of the Brethren in 1942; in 1953 this became Heifer International. The SS Carroll Victory was one of these ships, known as cowboy ships, as she moved livestock across the Atlantic Ocean. Carroll Victory moved horses, heifers, and mules as well as chickens, rabbits, and goats. As a family of farmers, Hubert's family would have been proud that this ship had been used to help other farmers and their livestock before bringing Hubie home.
August and Hulda received their final telegrams from the US Army in November 1948. The first to confirm Funeral home arrangements and delivery, and the second which is shown here, announced Hubie's arrival at the Monett Train Station on Frisco Train Number Three at 6:25 am Monday morning on November 29th, 1948.
"Dear Folks, I really hit the jackpot Thursday. I got twenty three letters. Now don't you think that was pretty good? I want to thank you very kindly for writing me so much. Yesterday I had three letters and today I had four more. I also received the Church Bulletins..... Vernon Kruger sure was wounded in a hurry. I hope he gets along fine. Do you know where he was hit? I hope he got hit in his leg and not in the chest. I guess you wonder why I wish that. Well, here is the reason. If his leg would be broke, he probably would be sent back to the States. Because (by) the time it would heal up, the war will be over here. I hope if you ever hear I am wounded, don't get all excited and worried, cause nine out of ten that go the Hospital make it OK. So don't worry."
Letter from Hubie to his parents, March 10, 1945. (2nd to last letter written by Hubie)
Hubie's big family back home were constantly writing him and as he writes above he had 30 letters to read that day of March 10th. In addition, his sister Elda, who was in Kansas City with her husband Al, operating the Wagner Funeral Home, cut out every mention of the 7th Army in the Kansas City Newspapers and saved them in a scrapbook, which still exists to this day. But in the second half of March of 1945, no one knew that Hubie had been killed. They all continued to write letters and send boxes. The news articles told of the success of the 7th Army and how they had succeeded in conquering the Siegfried line. The AP article of March 16th, 1945 stated: "Lieut. General Alexander M Patch sent his Seventh Army into its first major action, since the Colmar Pocket fight, at 1 O'clock yesterday morning, striking silently without the usual artillery preparation. Only light resistance met the first assault forces and the enemy began at once to fall back into the Siegfried Line behind thick minefields. Then massed American guns opened up with a thunderous barrage and only scattered fire met the attackers....Fifteen miles east of Saarbrucken, other forces broke into the Saar on a two mile front, penetrated the basin as far as a mile and were locked in a swirling battle near the border town of Uttweiler where the Germans threw in their first tanks."
A memorial fund was set up in Hubert's name to be used in the building of a new church. Over $500 was contributed from his first memorial service in 1945, and more was given from the funeral service in December of 1948. A new and much bigger Freistatt Church was built and consecrated in January of 1955. The sign above commemorating Hubert is now a permanent part of that new church building.
Picture of Nephew David Kleiboeker, carried by Hubert
Letter writing by Hubie, his parents, his brothers, sisters and cousins were nonstop. Hubie wrote a letter almost every day during training and almost every week when he was overseas. It was critical for morale and both the family and Hubie valued all the correspondence. The following excerpts from his letters prove this point:
"Well, where do you think I am writing this letter? You guess(ed) it, I am in the latrine sitting on a stool and writing. How do you like that? The lights are out in the barrack(s). But the light stays on all night in the latrine."
Letter to his parents from Hubie, Aug. 30, 1944
"You know the Kleiboekers and Holle's get so much mail here they usually sort it and they give it (the pile of mail for the Holle's & Kleiboekers) to one of us and then we divvy it all up. Yesterday I had 4 letters and a box of candy from Meta." Letter to sister Evelyn from Hubie Sept 14, 1944
Hubie leaving his home for the last time
"Dear Lorene, I am across now. We had a pretty nice trip anyway the sea never did get very rough and I never did get seasick and I am feeling fine. But I am getting tired of eating out of my mess kit. I just got thru eating breakfast. We ate with the navy this morn. I don't like their beans. ha ha. (As Hubie is writing this from England, he is referring to the typical British breakfast of baked beans, which was a staple then as they were canned, cheap and wholesome for a country that was being blockaded and had very little to eat.) I sure wish I could have a home cooked meal once again. We rode the train yesterday. Boy this part of the world sure looks a lot different than it does around home. They farm every inch of it around here and the trains are so much smaller than ours. The passenger cars are almost half as ours, and the freight cars are about a 1/4 as big. They look almost like a wagon. There's sure is a lot of difference in US and England. The language the people talk around here sounds nuts to me, ha ha and talk about blackouts. They really have them here. When night comes everything is dark. I will write soon. I don't know where I will be stationed. Your brother Hubbie"
Letter to Lorene Kleiboeker from Hubie Kleiboeker, via Vmail, undated, probably Jan 1945.
On May 7th, 1945 Germany signed an unconditional surrender of all German forces. This became known as "V-E Day" or Victory in Europe Day. Adolf Hitler had committed suicide on April 30th, and some German Generals continued fighting on various fronts until the surrender. Clearly there was rejoicing here in the US, but in Freistatt, many of the local boys were still fighting the Japanese in Asia. On August 6th, US Forces dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, they dropped another plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. Some forces continued to fight until September 2nd, when the Japanese Emperor signed an unconditional surrender on board the USS Missouri, in Tokyo Bay. Finally all the Freistatt boys serving in the armed forces could begin their journey home.
The Kleiboekers, like the rest of the country attempted to return to a normal life. Gradually ration cards for key supplies of rubber, oil, and gasoline went away. Food became more plentiful as more and more companies were able to re-engineer their businesses to a normal "non-wartime" economy. The Alvin Kleiboeker family, after the debilitating tornado, had to start over. Kit Worm, the owner of their farm was very frugal and although he rebuilt the destroyed house there, Alvin and Alice referred to it as "the Crackerbox". This new Crackerbox house was not built with a basement to save the Worm's money. Alvin often related that "Momma was having bad dreams and was afraid whenever the sky looked stormy" so Alvin was not going to move his family into a house without a storm shelter! Alvin dug a basement with his own hands creating an entrance right by the back porch and it was ready by their Thanksgiving 1945 move-in date. Alvin continued to work the rented farm and he utilized 2 acres of the Worm farm for growing strawberries. He described strawberry picking as "tedious backbreaking labor in the hot sun" but it paid well and Alvin had reliable pickers (some of which were his direct relatives) and soon he bought his first tractor in those years, a John Deere Model B with steel wheels. Later in 1950, he finally had enough money to stop renting and buy his first and lifelong farmstead near Stotts City where he had to clear the land and build a home to live in. That farm is still owned and occupied by his grandson and family.
Hubert's Grave in Dec. 1948. Note shocks of Corn in background standing in the field.
"We walked through a French Town yesterday. How the people live, I don't know, they throw the manure out of one door and the door next to it goes into the house. It really does stink in this town."
Letter to his parents from Hubie, Jan 24, 1945
“They told me I could go to rest camp tomorrow. I will be there about five days. And I won’t have anything to do. They have dances and movies every day so that should really be life. Oh yes, and they have showers so we can take a bath every day. If I don’t go to many dances, I will try and write you or Leona every day. How will that be? That sure is a surprise to(o). That they are letting me go already. I have just been with the company about a month. Some of the boys here were here for three months before they got to go. I guess I am just lucky. But you know old Hub, he gets around. The only thing I don’t like about going to rest camp is that I won’t get any mail till I get back to the my company. But I guess I can wait five more days, cause I can use the rest. Maybe I better tell you how this works. Every four days one man from our platoon get to go to rest camp.”
Letter from Hubie to Elda; Feb 23, 1945 France
This was all that was known by the Kleiboeker Family of that deadly day of March 15th until April 2nd when they received a telegram, that Hubie was Missing in Action.
Excerpts from 3rd Division, 7th Infantry Regiment History
At about 0730 on March 15, 1945 in Utweiler, Germany, the enemy directed flak wagon fire and fire from self-propelled guns at the Second Battalion forces and then at about 0800 closed in on the town with a combination of four flak wagons and nine tanks and tank destroyers, which included two "Tigers". It was a tough situation to be in without support of any kind. Attached armor had not gotten through to the battalion and without communication, artillery could not be called into play. That was the fundamental reason for the almost complete destruction of Lieutenant Colonel Duncan's battalion that day,
The Second Battalion had gone into the night attack with 640 officers and men and in the space of several hours had been reduced to 184 scattered and ineffective personnel. Records compiled later showed that of the 456 personnel missing, 21 had been killed in the action, 72 wounded and evacuated, 17 missing and 222 had been taken prisoners by the enemy. "Fox" Company had sustained the greatest losses. Captain Earl E. Swanson, one of the ablest company commanders to lead a "Cotton Baler" rifle company during this war and who had risen from the grade of private, and First Lieutenant Robert W. Rankin, with thirteen of their men, gave their lives by the mines or exploding enemy shells.
From the 7th Infantry History:
“Early 19 February, 1945, the 7th Infantry commenced movement by motor, from the Rhineland to rest areas, north (and south) of Nancy, France…. The Regiment rested and rehabilitated its troops the first few days in the new area. “Cotton Balers” received a hearty welcome by the populace in the towns of the province of Lorraine, where they were billeted in the homes of people and public buildings. Moving pictures and shows were provided for the men and each company held dances which were attended by the old and young “belles” of Lorraine, who quickly learned the American “jitterbug” steps and enjoyed the dances. Passes were given to the men to visit the historic city of Nancy. Sundays were devoted to religious services.”
“France sure has caught a lot of heck in this war. One can’t imagine what it looks like till one sees it. I sure am glad there is no bombing going on in the states. I guess the people here really do have a tuff life, the way things look. There are lot of French wearing wooden shoes. I sure am glad that I know the folks at home don’t have to put up with anything like that. The people at home aren’t thankful enough for the way they can live. If I get back now I will be satisfied with most anything.”
Letter from Hubert Kleiboeker to his sisters, Elda and Leona; Jan 22, 1945
Hubert Kleiboeker was born on Dec 22, 1922, the 8th child, out of 10 in the August and Hulda Kleiboeker Family. He wrote this from France to his sisters in Kansas City one month past his twenty third birthday while serving in the US Army in WW2. Hubert, known to the family as Hubie (pronounced "Hew-bee" and often spelled “Hubbie” when he signed his letters) was a gregarious and personable young man who enjoyed the times spent with his many siblings and his large community of fellow young Lutherans in his home town of Freistatt, MO. His pastor talked of his infectious smile and ability to laugh, which came through in many of his letters he wrote to his parents, brothers and sisters and church friends during his time in the Service. The family saved over 70 of these letters which after 75 years are still in excellent condition.
Hubie attended grade school at Freistatt Lutheran in German and then in 8th grade he attended the public Raithel School, to improve his English, graduating in 1936 at the age of 14. Hubie never attended High School as was typical then for many farm families. Hubie was drafted into the Armed Services on August 3, 1944. Hubie initially had an agricultural deferment, which was due to the fact that he was still the prime farmer, as his dad was not in good health, and his older brothers, Martin and Alvin had already married and were working their own farmsteads. Hubie had a younger brother Lorn, but when war broke out in 1941, Lorn was only 16. Lorn also had some heart issues that did not allow him to serve. But in the summer of 1944, Hubie was drafted as the US needed even more troops, as his deferment had expired.
an example of Hubie's correspondence, this one from Camp Hood Texas
These wooden shoes were sent home by Hubie. They appear to be children’s wooden shoes that were sold to the soldiers as souvenirs. He bought these probably during his stay at the rest camp. Shoes are now owned by Lorn Kleiboeker as of 2015.
Town of Utweiler Germany showing church and graveyard in front of church.
Diagram of Utweiler Germany showing route of American soldiers into town, Hubie probably made his way through the minefield, but then was killed by artillery fire in town near the church highlighted on map.
St. Avold Cemetery in France as it looked in 1945, arrow indicates Hubie's gravesite where he rested from 1945 to 1948.
“Yesterday they made me second in command of our squad. I have to help the Sgt. check the men in our squad to see that they have enough ammo, etc. If I do a good job of it maybe some day I will get a rating.”
Letter from Hubie to Elda; March 1, 1945 France
By squad, Hubie is referring to his squad of 9-10 soldiers, which is typically commanded by a sergeant or staff sergeant. A platoon led by a Lieutenant consists of 2 to 4 squads. A company is usually made up of 3 to 5 platoons, which encompasses 60-190 soldiers. A battalion is made up of 4 to 6 companies or 300-1000 soldiers and is led by a Lieutenant Colonel. Hubie was in F or "Fox" company of the 2nd Battalion. In Hubie's case, the 2nd Battalion was made up of Companies, E, F, G and H and had 640 Soldiers in March of 1945. Companies E, F and G were Rifle Infantry and Company H was the Weapons Company in charge of machine guns, bazookas and other non-rifle guns.
“Did I ever tell what division I am in? I don’t know whether this will go through or not, but I will try it. I am in the third division. You probably have read a lot about it. It is the oldest division over here. We have won many medal(s) of honor. If I ever get home, I will be wearing lots of medals and ribbons.”
Letter from Hubie to Elda; March 1, 1945 France
Hubie’s reference to “this will go through or not” involves the censors that looked at every piece of mail sent from Europe. The US was quite concerned that information about troop movement and structure not be shared with any potential enemy spies. Hubie was assigned to the F (Fox) Company (led by Captain Earl Swanson) of the 2nd battalion (led by Lieutenant Colonel Jack Duncan) of the 7th Infantry Regiment (led by Colonel John A. Heintges). This Regiment was part of the US Army’s Third Division and was led by Major General John W. O'Daniel. The Third Division was part of the US Seventh Army led by General Patch (not to be confused with the 7th Infantry Regiment mentioned earlier). The 7th Army fought their first battles of WW2 in northern Africa. At that time they were lead by General George Patton during their invasion of Sicily. After fighting in Italy, the 7th Army, now under General Patch, landed in the South of France in 1944 and worked their way up the Rhone river heading north, fighting pockets of German resistance. In early January of 1945, when Hubie joined the outfit, the 7th Army was fighting the “Colmar Pocket”, and then subsequently took on the Germans at their border encountering the famous “Siegfried Line" in March of 1945.
“Did you read any thing about Colmar in the papers? I have been there. If they had half as much in the papers at home as they did here, you probably read a plenty.”
Letter from Hubert Kleiboeker to Elda; March 1, 1945 France
Hubie landed in France during one of Europe’s worst snow seasons. This was the time of the Battle of the Bulge, and lucky for Hubie, he was not farther north, involved in that battle. His first duty upon arrival, was holding a defensive line near Colmar.
“The weather here is pretty cold and plenty snowy. We have a foot of snow now and it snows almost every day. But we have a barracks to live in. It is not very good and not much heat. But we manage to keep warm. And our meals are pretty good. But I would like for you to send me some candy and cookies if you please. I am feeling fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Hubie letter to Elda and Leona of Jan 22, 1945 France
After Hubie wrote that letter, he was immediately tasked with the first offensive attack of the Colmar Pocket operation starting that very night of Jan 22. According to the history of the 7th Infantry: “(The 7th Army)… moved to firing positions and concentration areas during the night of 21-22 January without incident……Final check of all personnel was made in the concentration areas. Canteens were filled. Wearing the white “spook suit” each individual carried one “K” ration, and the bothersome gas mask, besides firing weapons. Each rifleman carried four bandoliers of ammunition and a minimum of two fragmentation grenades.”
A second attack during the Colmar Pocket was made on January 29th. Here the 7th Army history book continues: “While the “Cotton Balers” (nickname of the 7th Army from their history during the War of 1812) waited in the snow covered woods for the next attack, they suffered much from the cold. The bunker positions formerly used by the Germans, were used to the fullest extent, but there were not enough of them to house all the men. A few tents were pitched, but many of them slept in the snow fox holes and utilized tree branches as best they could…. The Regimental Surgeon made an inspection of the battalions on the 27th Jan and reported that there were at least 200 cases of frozen feet. The worst cases were sent to receive medical care”
"I have been in combat. And sure don't have much time to write. At times things are plenty tough. But so far I made it alright. I have prayed more this last week then I ever have before. The Lord sure has protected me. And I know he always will, so don't worry about me, just keep praying as I know you are and maybe this old war will soon be over. That is my daily prayer. I wonder if you would tell Rev. to send me another pray(er) book and New Testament? You may wonder what I done with the one I had. I will try and tell you. I had it in my pack. And the other night we were on the attack and I just could not carry my pack any longer. So I threw it away. So now I don't have anything anymore. If you can send me a tooth brush and a razor and a little writing paper."
Letter to Hubie's Parents from Hubie, February 6th, 1945
Losing one's backpack with many needed supplies must have caused Hubie some stress. His decision to throw away his pack was not taken lightly. He probably had to escape quickly and this being his first real experience in combat, taught him some valuable lessons. It is interesting to note that other pictures and cards of value to Hubie must have been kept on his person and not in his pack as can be seen later in this write-up.
"The weather is the same here as anywhere in France, snow and plenty of it. I feel a lot better today. I washed and shaved for the first time in two weeks.... I have seen a lot the last few days. I have saw a lot of dead horses and the towns are all tore up. Say you should have seen me and the Sergeant the other day. We decided to bake some pancakes. So I talked to a civilian and got some eggs and we got flour and milk but we could not get any baking soda. But we had pancakes just the same. They were a little tuff but we did not mind that, ha, ha."
Letter to Hubie's Parents from Hubie February 7, 1945
"I have been in combat. At times it gets really rough. Without the help of the Lord, one could never go through what I have gone through. The Lord surely protected me. I have prayed more the last few weeks than I ever did before…”
Hubie Letters to Pastor Stuenkel, Trinity Lutheran, Freistatt dated 14 Feb 1945.
After the battle of Colmar, the 7th Army conducted it’s second “Watch on the Rhine” from the 8th to the 18th of February. As a result of the Colmar Pocket operation, they had now taken all territory west of the Rhine River in this part of France, and pushed the Germans back over to the German side of the Rhine. Patrols operated between manned “outposts and listening posts” along the river. Artillery and mortar fire were fired across the Rhine into Germany, but little activity or contact occurred, mostly small incidents as both sides kept watch on each other.
As Chaplain Grapatin was still serving in the 7th Army in Europe, he first heard about Hubie's death in May 1945 in a letter from Pastor Stuenkel of Freistatt. He made some inquiries at the 7th Army's head office at the time in Salzburg, Austria. He found out where Hubie was buried and committed to visiting Hubie's grave, if possible. Finally in July of 1945, after the 7th Army had made its way through the Siegfried line, to Munich and on to Berchtesgarden, where Hitler had his summer alpine personal retreat, the 7th was no longer at war and Chaplain Grapatin was now doing administrative duties near Kassel, Germany. As a result of his change in roles, to administration, Chaplain Grapatin was now able to come home. He described such in his sermon at Hubie's 1948 memorial service: "In August, I received word that I was going back home to the USA. I was assigned to another Division and joined them near Wiesbaden Germany. In early September we started our long journey for home. En route to the port of embarkation, Le Havre, France our long convoy stopped in Metz France overnight. I asked the Colonel's permission to break out of the convoy the next morning to drive to St. Avold which was between twenty and thirty miles away. The permission was gladly given. I arrived at the cemetery, located Hubert's grave, had a short service, took several pictures, and hurried back to the Convoy."
"We are out on the ocean. It sure makes me feel funny. All one can see is water, water and more water. Boy this ocean really is big, Mom. Now I know what you meant when you said all you could see for days was water. This morning we all had to go on the deck. Boy oh boy for all the men that were throwing up. I never saw anything like it before in my life, but the fish sure should have plenty to eat, ha, ha. So far I have been able to hold it down. But how much longer I don't know. ha, ha. But I am feeling pretty good now. We really have a swell boat, I rode very good yesterday. But today it is riding a little rougher..... I suppose Verner and Edvard Rusch are on the here with me. But I don't know where they are. I tried to find them but no luck. I don't know what unit they are in, so that makes it pretty hard to find them."
Letter to his parents from Hubie, date cut out by censor assume Jan 1945
Front and back of Lutheran Membership Card Hubert carried with him in his wallet while in Europe
Floral Bouquets were abundant that day, here being carried by Hubie's nieces and nephew.
While the Kleiboeker Family was trying to absorb the magnitude of the loss of Hubie, which they learned about on Tuesday April 10th, that week in April did not slow down for them. On Thursday April 12th, just two days after they heard of Hubie's death, storm clouds threatened and the sky turned scary. Here is how Alvin, Hubie's older brother told the story: "I had finished sowing oats and noticed a large dark cloud with a strange purple and green cast with lightning in it. The lightning did not go up and down. It was going from side to side in the cloud!" Alvin's wife Alice continued: "He had put our cows into the barn, and came to the house fast, and told me there was a storm coming. I could see how dark it was getting...there was an eerie stillness and then I heard these chunks of ice hitting the roof." It was 7:30 pm in the evening. Alice grabbed her 8 week old daughter Karen, and her two year old David grabbed two caps and his coat and they all went down to the smoke house cellar, where they kept their canned goods. Alvin tried to close the cellar door, but the wind ripped it out of his hands. "The roar was like a freight train" remembered Alice, just as she remembers all her canned fruit and vegetable jars clinking against each other. David who was less than 3 years old at the time can also still remember the fruit jars rattling and seeing chickens come flying in on top of them. Finally it became quiet again. Alvin looked up and could not believe his eyes. The cellar roof was gone, his house was gone. They could see the sky through the big maple tree that had been blown down over the cellar. They had to climb out through the limbs of the tree. Alvin continues: "Then I saw the barn was blown over, the brand new brooder house was gone, everything was blown away. We were soaking wet, but we were alive." Every chicken was killed, the pigs had boards speared through them, they all died. David remembers the refrigerator now sitting on the other side of the road, and when it was opened an unspilled pitcher of milk was inside still full. Some of the cattle were saved through herculean efforts of fellow Freistatt farmers who came to help Alvin chop through debris to rescue 12-13 cows who were in the bottom of a heap of wood shards that used to be the barn. Of course many other neighbors and relatives all had damage from the storm that night, but no one had the damage incurred by Alvin and Alice.
Alvin and Alice moved in with Alvin's parents, August and Hulda for several weeks. Alice was informed yet that week that her younger brother, Verner Nelson, who was one of the local Freistatt boys who went to Camp Hood with Hubie and then to Europe as well, was injured severely with an enemy bullet penetrating both cheeks. More on Verner's story can be found here and here. Verner had to endure many operations and lifelong scars. Then in that same week, one of Alice's other brothers, Frank and his new wife, Elda (nee Lampe) buried their newborn daughter, Elaine Nelson. And finally yet that week, they all found out that President Franklin D Roosevelt had died that same Thursday, the day of the big storm. Hope does spring eternal for those that love God, and these families rekindled their faith and hopes and dreams and carried on.
The US 7th Army though, was not to be defeated on that day of March 15th, 1945. By 2:00 p.m. all was ready and the US counterattack on Utweiler began. This time, supported by fifteen tanks and tank destroyers plus the Anti-Tank Co. armed with bazookas, the Third Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment now attacked Utweiler from the southeast. In addition, artillery concentrations and air strikes were placed on the area north of Utweiler to prevent German reinforcement. At 3:05 p.m. 7th Infantry HQ reported to General O’Daniel that the Third Battalion was in the town: “The Jerries are streaming out the other side. One of our tanks knocked out a tank of theirs that we are sure of so far. Artillery has been shooting at the retreating Germans.” O’Daniel replied: “You have to keep after them or they will be back tonight”
By 3:30 in the afternoon Heintges could report to Third Division HQ that Utweiler had been retaken and that the Germans had suffered heavy losses. “The Germans had a lot of men back in that town of Utweiler,” Colonel Heintges stated. “Our observers estimated at least a reinforced company of over one hundred men. We got back about two hundred fifty men out of the Second Battalion. On this last deal up there we lost a very good Company Commander [Capt. Earl Swanson] and also two or three more pieces of armor. Heavy weapons Company of Second Battalion seems to be in fairly good shape.”
In the letter above, Hubie writes of his mother saying "all you could see for days was water." Hubie is referencing his mother's (Hulda Rusch's) immigration voyage to the US from Posen, Germany (via Bremen to Baltimore) 42 years earlier in 1903, when she was 16, and her memories of that trip. Hulda crossed that year with her parents and her sister, Otillie and always told the story of how a fellow passenger had died on that trip and the lady had to be buried at sea, which made quite the impact on all her children. You can read more about this on page 9 of this webpage here.
Hubie also writes "We really have a swell boat". He most certainly did. He was on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth which had just been built in 1939 but not yet Christened as a sea going vessel. It snuck out of its Scotland building yard in March of 1940 to evade a German bombing raid just in time and secretly sailed for NY Harbor. The ship was immediately turned into a troop transport ship by painting it typical military gray, and removing many of the luxury features and berths as seen below left. The eventual look of a beautiful passenger cruise ship can be seen on the right. The ship was designed to hold 2283 passengers and 1000 crew members. But during the war, the ship usually held 15,000 troops per voyage. So no wonder Hubie could not find any relatives on board.
Hubie landed in Scotland on the 13th of January, an ocean voyage of only 6 days. The Queen Elizabeth was a new and modern high speed Cruise Ship. This allowed them to outrun hazards, principally German U-boats and they traveled alone and outside a convoy. Most convoys took 14 days to cross.
"I got the Camp paper today and our pictures are in it but they made a mistake in it. They said there were three pair of brothers. They stated that Vernon and I were brothers.... You might wonder why I have my head turned to the right. Here is why, they give us orders to stand "dress right" if you don't know what I mean ask Buescher, he can tell you. He has been in the Army long enough. We had on our fatigues, they sure look crazy. You will think so when you see the picture."
Letter to his folks from Hubie August 25th, 1944.
Excerpt from LoneSentry.com
Since the attack was secret, patches and vehicle markings were removed. Second Bn., 7th, infiltrated through enemy mine fields to reach the town of Utweiler, just inside the border south of Zweibrucken. Then disaster struck. The Chicago Tribune, reported this story on March 18, 1945:
"Five of our tanks had been knocked out by mines trying to enter Utweiler, and the rest of the column had to turn back," related Lt. John Ananich, Jr., Flint, Mich., one of the survivors. "The Krauts rolled six of their tanks to the high ground north of the town. They had us caught, and caught bad. We had only the weapons infantrymen carry. One of the German tanks worked its way down into the town and the others followed and started knocking down the buildings with direct fire.
Some of our men were being buried alive in those buildings."We tried to get some men out of the trap to guide our own armor, but those men never got through. The Krauts were chasing us from one building to another. Finally, there were no buildings left. Now our men, made attempts to dash across the open ground for refuge in woods on the ridge south of the village. Some of them made it."The battalion had 600 men when it started the attack. Two hundred got back.
The 7th Army began training for the next phase of their campaign. Although Hubie didn’t know it at the time, the generals planned this rest and training time to get ready for some of the most difficult fighting of the war. The Americans were about to engage the Germans at their own border. They wanted to ensure that the troops were well rested, and trained them for combat in villages and streets.
After Hubie wrote these letters, he was involved in training from March 2nd to March 12th and per the 7th Army History: “On 2 March, a more intensive program of training was initiated with eight hours per day devoted to weapons training and small unit problems in the attack and defense. One third of the training was conducted during the hours of darkness. Emphasis was placed on ‘village and street fighting’ which took place in Pournoy la Chetive, where a ‘typical’ Germany village was set up. Demonstrations of street fighting by selected personnel preceded the use of the village by small unit formations of the battalions. Full use was made of demolitions, grenades, rocket launchers, flame throwers, and other infantry weapons. Tank destroyers were used in the exercises. Every measure was taken to make the problems as realistic as possible for the new members of the regiment. During the night training, ‘artificial moonlight’ was used. Anti tank …training was begun with the rocket launcher, better known as the ‘bazooka’.” --- This "artificial moonlight" was created by trained military units using powerful searchlights which bounced light off low hanging clouds to light up the fighting area at night.
The riflemen of the 7th Army were about to take on the revered “Siegfried Line” or Western Wall. This defensive line at the German border was a defense system stretching more than 630 km (390 mi) with more than 18,000 bunkers, mine fields, tunnels and tank traps. It stretched from Holland in the North to Switzerland in the South. More with propaganda in mind than for any strategic reason, Adolf Hitler planned the line from 1936 and had it built between 1938 and 1940. The bunkers had ceilings and walls 5 ft thick, but this proved completely insufficient even before construction was finished. A total of 3,471 bunkers were built along the entire length of the Siegfried Line. The bunkers had a central room or shelter for 10 to 12 men. Another section had openings at the front and sides for machine guns, and a separate entrance. Tank traps were also built for miles along the Siegfried Line and were known as "dragon’s teeth” or "pimples" (in German Höcker, "humps") because of their shape.
Upon graduating from Camp Hood, the Freistatt gang was finally split up. Only 2 of the ten were sent to Europe, Hubie and Verner Nelson, all others were off to fight the Japanese. Hubie and Verner never met or encountered each other after Camp Hood. Hubie was able to get a short leave over Christmas most likely arriving the weekend of Dec 23/24. His brother Martin picked him up from the Joplin train station and remembered driving home in a difficult snow storm. But Hubie was so thankful to be with his family. June Huff remembers her dad, Lorn Kleiboeker telling the story of how "Hubert helped him with the chores on that Christmas morning so they could get them done before church." Also during Hubie's short furlough, he met with his pastor on Wednesday Dec 27th. Rev. W. Stuenkel gave him communion and a wallet card identifying him as a "Communicant Member" of Trinity Lutheran at Freistatt, MO.
The Freistatt Lutheran Congregation contributed significantly to the war effort as they sent 53 young men to serve between 1940 and 1944. The Congregation counted 800 baptized and 600 communicant members, based in the village of Freistatt with a population of only 132. The wagon ride in the photo was held in August of 1944 before 10 additional Freistatt young men were inducted in the Army. This send-off party/get-together was organized by the Walther League, which was the young persons group of the Lutheran Church. As you can see, it was a large organization as so many farm families there had 8-10 children in each family.
On August 17th of 1945, Hubie's parents received a letter and box from the "War Department, Army Effects Bureau". The letter stated: "I am inclosing a check for $17.41, representing funds that belonged to him. The remainder of the property is being forwarded to you in one package."
Even more letters were written after that Telegram of April 2nd, but this time not to Hubie but to each other and so many friends and relatives. One exception, Hubie's sister Lorene, had written a 4 page letter on April 2nd. On the back of the final page after she signed the letter, she added:
"Just as I got the envelope addressed to you last nite, we received a telegram stating you were missing since March 15 in Germany. You know how this makes us feel. We are praying the Lord is keeping you safe somewhere for us. We are anxiously waiting for further notice. We have let Doris know. The Telegram stated they'd let us know more promptly if they heard. It always takes so long though. Praying you are safe, Love Lorene"
Letter from Lorene Kleiboeker to her brother Hubie, 2 April, 1945
This local article in the Monett Times from November 10,1944 describes how dedicated the German Community of Freistatt was to the war effort. The banner in the photo shows a banner of blue stars surrounded with a red border and gold fringe. Under each star, the name of a local boy who was serving in the war is embroidered. The article states that "Thus far, no gold stars needed to replace a blue one."
Not only did Freistatt send 53 of their young men to war, the folks at home did all they could as well. An excerpt from this article states: "Every War Bond Drive that has been put on, in this community has always gone over the quota set for this district. The Walther League has appointed a special Army and Navy Secretary. Her duty is to keep all new addresses and address changes posted on the bulletin board in the corridor of the school. The church's bulletins, the League's paper "The Give and Take" and other material are mailed regularly to the boys by this Secretary. Individual Leaguers write letters regularly to every boy away in service. The War Chest Drive workers are always drawn from the Walther League Members. The citizens give liberally to this War Chest because they know that the money will be used for worthy causes, not only in this country, but also in the war torn and stricken lands over there."
After leaving England, Hubie went through three different towns in France. As Hubie got closer to the front, transportation options were increasingly limited. His last ride was by open box car within France and arrived near Colmar on January 24th, near the French-German border.
Floral Tributes before going into Church
"I was glad to hear the corn crop is good, but I do wish I was there to gather it. But I bet the work is plenty full around, 'cause I know what it was when we were both there..." "Dear Lorn, I sure was glad to hear that your heifer had a calf. I bet it is really cute, why don't you take a picture of the cow and calf and yourself? And send it to me. I sure hope you get a good stand of alfalfa. I hope those grasshoppers all die and don't eat any of the alfalfa." "Dear Evelyn.......I was sorry to hear that you will not be able to go to school, But I do think Dad is right, there is a lot of work on the farm. It is almost too much for Lorn to do." Letters from Hubie to Lorn and Evelyn Aug 27 and Sept 1, 1944.
"Well Mom, how are you by now? do you still work so hard? You know I think you should just sit down and take life easy 'cause you done enough hard work in your life. And how are your chickens doing? Does it still make you so mad when they lay down and die? Ha, ha. Or have they quit that? I hope they should know better by now. Are any of the pullets laying? I guess it is a little early yet." Letter from Hubie to Mama and Papa, Sept 3, 1944
In many of his letters, especially those from Basic Training included questions about the farm and how the work was going with him away. By 1944, his older siblings, Elda, Meta, Alvin and Martin were all married and starting their own lives in their own homes. Leona was working in Kansas City, Vera was working at Camp Crowder in nearby Neosho, MO. Lorene who had been working for the Navy in Washington DC from Dec 1941 to summer of 1943, and was back home in that fall of 1944. So Lorene, Lorn and Eveyln were the only three left on the farm, and they had to pick up the chores and other work as Lorn tried to do what two men were doing before Hubie left. Many of Hubie's letters continued to ask about the farm, the animals and how the crops did. Hubie was indeed a farmer at heart.
From World War 2 Database.com Here is a description of life on board the Queen Elizabeth:
"Each voyage was a considerable feat of organization and perfect co-operation between the sea transport staff of the Ministry of War Transport, the War Office, the Admiralty and the American authorities on the one hand and the ships' owners on the other. Superb teamwork by the officers, crews and permanent military staffs aboard evolved into a smooth-running machine that could absorb 15,000 men, feed and house them during the voyage, then disembark them with scarcely a pause. Then commence the whole operation once again. The amount of stores required was considerable. For just one voyage by one ship the complement would require some 76,400 lbs of flour, cereal etc.; 21,400 lbs bacon and ham; 155,000 lbs meat and poultry; 4,600 lbs cheese; 16,000 lbs jam; 29,000 lbs fresh fruit; 31,400 lbs tea, coffee, sugar; 31,400 lbs tinned fruit; 124,300 lbs potatoes; 53,600 lbs butter, eggs and milk powder.
Everything was meticulously planned with no detail too small to be ignored. Obviously, to allow 15,000 troops (corresponding to an entire army division on every trip) freedom to wander at will about the ship would be to invite chaos, and to obviate this, each ship was divided into red, white and blue zones. Before the troops began to embark each man was issued with a coloured label indicating the zone in which he would be berthed. He was required to wear it throughout the voyage, and for him any other zones were strictly out of bounds. The troops messed in the ship's main restaurant, 2,000 sitting at each meal. Each man was issued with a coloured card indicating his meal time, which had to be rigorously observed. The preparation of over 30,000 meals a day was a colossal task for the kitchen staff who were commonly assisted by fatigue parties drawn from among the passengers. The troops themselves provided their own eating utensils and were additionally required to assist the kitchen staff by doing their own washing up in specially installed equipment. The time at sea was not spent entirely in lining up for meals. Troop accommodation had to be cleaned for daily inspection, and there were the regulation boat and other drills, which all ranks were required to attend, and to which they would be mustered by a public address system that reached into every corner of the ship. There were eagerly awaited news bulletins and impromptu entertainments and film shows arranged to accommodate all who desired to attend, and well stocked ship's canteens allowed the men to purchase anything from Coca Cola to shaving soap.
Finally, as they drew near to their destination, arrangements had to be made for the men to disembark. One of the first tasks was to issue around, 30,000 ration packs for their onward journeys. Then the men would parade on deck for an official welcome to Great Britain, after which there commenced an orderly disembarkation into the tenders that would ferry the troops across the Clyde to the trains waiting to carry the troops on to their designated base camps.
Both Reverend J. W. Stelling and Chaplain Grapatin officiated at the impressive military tribute for Hubert. (Chaplain Grapatin, still in the US Army was now stationed at Camp Chaffee, near Fort Smith Arkansas, which in 1941 -1946 was also a German Prisoner of War Camp.) The Service for Hubie included the quartet of Frank Nelson, Verner Nelson, Alvin Fritz and Raymond Fellwock who sang "Jesus Lead Thou On". They were accompanied on the organ by Prof. Paul Rottmann. As can be seen in the photos above there were many floral bouquets which were carried in by Hubie's various younger relatives: Aletha Faye Kleiboeker, Arlene Kleiboeker, Clara Kleiboeker, Mildred Mattlage, Ardice Hesemann, Marion Rusch, Patty Rusch, Marilyn Kleiboeker, Carolyn Kleiboeker and of course his favorite nephew, David Kleiboeker. Pallbearers were all members of the Hubert H. Kleiboeker Legion Post No. 419: Vernon Kleiboeker, Melbert Holle, Martin Holle, Martin Schoen, Verner Nelson, and Norman Lampe. Honorary Pallbearers were Raymond Bracht, Walter Holle, Chesteen Fleming, Norbert Obermann, Eddie Joeckel, and Ervin Hesemann. The Color Guard and Color bearers were Elmer Kaiser, Erwin Krueger, Junior Karr, Maurice Ray and Marvin Holle. Buglers were Homer Lee and Homer Oexmann.
Chaplain Grapatin delivered the sermon that day which was quite personal and told the story of his meeting Hubie back in March of 1945 at the Nancy Rest Camp. The Chaplain centered his remarks around the text of Romans 8:28. "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God." It was a loving and very personal tribute to Hubie. Chaplain Grapatin concluded his remarks with a quote from a woman he met in Alsace France. "Herr Pfaarer, Sie haben alles weg genomen, aber nicht den lieben Gott!" Here was a french woman who spoke German that almost all the participants at Hubie's funeral could understand: "Dear Pastor, The enemy has taken away everything, but not our dear God!" Grapatin continued: "She lost her home, her cows, chickens, yes everything she had, but not God. She still had God. And so no matter what may happen to us, may we never lose faith in God." A copy of Reverend Grapatin's sermon is available for further reading here.
Hubie's parents, August and Hulda, his six sisters and three brothers, and especially his brother Alvin had all lost a great deal these past few years. This service was hard to experience but the family knew that all things work together for good. His parents and siblings all had strong faith and that faith remained a guiding foundation throughout each of their lives.
On April 21st, Hubie's father, August received a letter from the Division Chaplain, L.L. Langford, who stated "As Protestant Chaplain is was my sad duty to officiate at his burial. I wish to assure you that he received a service in keeping with the high principles for which he made the supreme sacrifice. He was laid to rest in a cemetery that is nicely located and the surroundings have been developed as beautifully as possible. His individual grave is cared for with the reverent respect and honor which is due our national heroes." And on July 9, 1945, August finally got a response to his inquiry letter of April 8th which stated: "His (Hubie's) company had captured the town of Utweiler Germany when your son was killed. He was buried in the beautiful US Military Cemetery at St. Avold, France; Plot I, Row 11, Grave 1284."
The family decided to hold a special memorial service for Hubert on Sunday afternoon, April 29, 1945. It was attended by over 600 people. Pastor Stuenkel of the Freistatt Church gave the sermon and it was quite personal as Hubie and Rev. Stuenkel had exchanged quite a few letters and Hubie had stopped in to see the Pastor on his leave in December. The Walther League (Lutheran Youth Group) Choral Union and its male quartet rendered special selections. A specially prepared memorial scroll was given by the church to Hubie's Father, as well as a message from the US Army's Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall and the American Flag. The family gave $100.00 of Hubert's savings to mission endeavors of the church, and relatives and friends contributed almost $500 to a Hubert Kleiboeker Memorial Fund to be used in the building of a new church. The Service closed with the sounding of taps. It was a difficult, emotional day for the family. Tears were shed and hugs liberally exchanged.
“Mom, you should hear me talk German now. There are a lot of the French that can talk German. (Hubie was stationed very close to the French-German border, many local French did business with and were related to many Germans across the border before the war) But boy do they really use grammar, they don't mix half English in with it the way we do. So that makes it a little harder for me to talk with them. ....I am with a French family now, sitting at a table writing this letter. That's the first time I have had a table to write on for a long time. The people sure don't get very much to eat. 1/5 lb of cheese per person a month, that's not very much if you ask me. And they get 1/5 lb of meat a week per person and very little lard. If they only had some of the lard you have that is going to waste. The people back in the States sure don't have anything to complain about."
Letter from Hubie to his mother; Feb 21, 1945 France
Earl Reitan continues: "Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on March 15 the Second Battalion crossed into Germany at Utweiler. Company F led the way, followed by E and G Companies. Company H, the weapons company, was divided among the rifle companies. The artillery barrage and searchlights gave the signal for the attack but they also alerted the Germans. About a mile south of Utweiler, F Company entered a mine field where exploding mines wreaked havoc. Trapped in the minefield, the “artificial moonlight” exposed the riflemen to taking direct and indirect fire from enemy flak wagons, machine guns, and mortars. Swanson sent a messenger back to battalion headquarters to inform them that the company was in a minefield and could not proceed."
Earl Reitan quotes Ben Loup, one of Hubie's fellow Riflemen in the First Platoon: "The original plan was for the Engineers of the 44th Division (which had established defensive positions along our line of departure), to clear a path through the minefield and mark the path with engineer's tape. An officer of the unit through which we were to pass was to lead us through the mine field. F Company (started first and) reached the line of departure at 1:00 am and Captain Swanson gave his usual order: "Let's Go!". Swanson was in the lead with the First Platoon (Hubie's platoon). Everyone got up and followed Capt. Swanson down the road about 40 or 50 yards. At this point the officer who was supposed to lead us through the mine field into Utweiler pointed out the engineer’s tape to Capt. Swanson and took off for the rear. … Captain Swanson entered the field by the engineer’s tape followed by his radio operator, my squad’s scout, then myself and my assistant BAR man. After traversing a short distance in the mine field, about 20 yards or so, the engineer’s tape ended. Capt. Swanson stopped and looked around for the engineer’s tape, but found none. He then assumed, and so passed back the word, that since there was no more engineer’s tape, there were probably no more mines. We started our approach to Utweiler. About 10 yards or so past the engineer’s tape, Capt. Swanson’s radio operator set off a mine and the explosion ripped the radio off his back. Almost simultaneously with that explosion, there were two other explosions farther back in my squad. Capt. Swanson immediately gave us the order to stop in our tracks, do not move our feet, and gently feel around where we were standing. If we felt nothing, lay prone. The attack was now stalled."
Then enemy machine guns, artillery shells and mortars began firing at the stranded troops. Loup, who knew a snafu when he saw one, was wounded in the cheek by a shell fragment, returned safely to the battalion aid station for treatment, and lived to fight another day.
A major problem at Utweiler was the lack of armor (US Tanks) due to the refusal of the tanks to accompany the infantry. Joseph Corrigan of F Co. recalls: “When we got up to the front and just before we went into the minefield I remember Capt. Swanson jumping up on the tank with a gun in his hand, telling the tank commander to go forward. But as soon as he got off the tank, the tank turned around and took off for the rear.”
George Corpis was a replacement rifleman in F Co. (similar to Hubie) for whom Utweiler was his first and last experience of combat. He describes the deaths of Capt. Swanson and his platoon leader, Lt. Rankin. “Captain Swanson,” Corpis writes, “was wounded in the arm and heading to the rear to an aid station when a German shell landed near him and killed him.” Lieutenant Rankin was next to Corpis as they tried to extract themselves from the minefield. Rankin stepped on a mine, and when he hit the ground he landed on another mine and was killed instantly. Corpis recalled that F Co. got out of the minefield and followed E Co. around to the right, where they charged the German defenders, firing from the hip, “Just like in the movies,” he said. F Company was told to take the church and walled graveyard and then wait for the armor (tanks) before heading out again. When Corpis’ squad was ensconced in the church they relaxed, glad to be alive after the harrowing experience in the minefield. Swanson and Rankin had both been killed, and it appears that no one stepped forward to take charge.
While the remnants of F Co. were getting reorganized, Capt. James Powell, commander of E Co., had led the battalion around the mine field to gain entrance to the village, which was defended with trenches and cut trees. They attacked with a rush, took approximately 60 German prisoners, and by 6:00 a.m. the situation seemed to be well in hand. Almost half the members of the battalion were disoriented by the minefield, the shelling, and the darkness, and did not make it into Utweiler at all. Radio contact was lost when Col. Duncan moved his command post into the village, and the minefield delayed the laying of telephone lines. Duncan expected that communications would soon be restored and waited for the arrival of the armor, which was the signal to move forward (7th Infantry, 236).
Back at the line of departure the American armor was held up. Four tanks were disabled by mines and German artillery. The remaining tanks and tank destroyers refused to move forward until the road had been swept. They claimed that the ground was too soft to go over land. Colonel Heintges intervened personally to persuade some of them to move forward (7th Infantry, 238). For the moment the troops in Utweiler were without armor, but that did not seem important. Having attained their objective, those members of the Second Battalion who had reached Utweiler relaxed, waiting for the next move. Apparently the usual procedures for establishing a defensive perimeter were not followed.
About 8:00 a.m. the Germans counterattacked in the village of Utweiler with tanks and supported by infantry. They surrounded the village and began firing on the surprised GIs who were resting or lounging about. The rifle companies had bazookas, but their bazooka ammunition was quickly expended in firing unsuccessfully at Nazi tanks at long range. When they discovered that the Americans had no bazooka ammunition left, four German tanks, supported by riflemen, came rolling down the street, firing into the houses, collapsing the roofs, and setting the houses on fire. Without radio or telephone communication, US artillery could not be called in, and the US tanks did not appear. American rifles were useless against the Nazi tanks; there was no alternative except to surrender. In less than an hour the Second Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment was destroyed as a fighting unit.
After reviewing various letters and official records, and exchanging emails in 2010 with both Earl Reitan and Robert Cook who both served with Hubert, I, Dennis Kruse, have concluded that Hubert did make it through the mine field and most likely was killed in battle in Utweiler after the Germans counterattacked between 8 and 11am that morning, although this is not definitive. Neither Earl Reitan or Robert Cook remembered Hubert precisely or was near him during the battle, but Robert Cook referenced a memory of guy nicknamed "Kly". Much later, a letter from the Division's Chaplain, Lloyd E Langford to Hubie's parents stated: "According to an officer of his company, they had captured a village in Germany, not far from the French border and were counter-attacked by enemy tanks and infantry. Your son was at his post of duty when a tank shell burst near him. He was instantly killed. His excellent character and devotion to duty had won the esteem of all who knew him."
The US Military Cemetery at St. Avold (as it looks today) now named the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial is the largest US Military Graveyard of WW2 Soldiers in Europe. Hubie was buried alongside 16,000 other soldiers. Most of those interred died in the autumn of 1944 and Spring of 1945. This was during the Allied advances from Paris to the Rhine as the Americans sought to expel the Germans from the fortress city of Metz and advance on the Siegfried Line at the German border. Those buried were mostly from the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies.
Hubie's parents wrote to the US Army on April 8th and specifically asked if "Hubert's Sergeant (whom he has written about often) might tell us about his missing or when he was last seen". But this letter was not immediately answered. Instead, they got the next Telegram on Tuesday, April 10th, from the same Adjutant General Ulio who sent the first telegram, but this time informing them that Hubie was Killed In Action on March 15, 1945.
"Lt. General Patch sent his Seventh Army into its first major action since the Colmar Pocket, at 1:00 am on March 15th, 1945, deciding to strike silently without the usual artillery preparation" (AP News article of 3/16/45). This was perhaps a good decision to create surprise, but according to the 7th Army history, the Seventh Army suffered its worst day of World War Two. "In the fog of war, things sometimes go wrong, and when they do, the riflemen find themselves on the cutting edge of defeat." (From Earl Reitan's "Disaster at Utweiler", Earl was a fellow Rifleman in the 2nd Battalion.
After training for so long in village combat, use of "artificial moonlight" and getting lots of rest, the various Generals felt they were ready to tackle the German Border and expected little resistance. But just inside the French - German border, the Nazis had installed miles and miles of buried mines. The Generals decided that it was best if they used a night attack similar to what had been done in the Colmar Pocket. But this time they would add a new wrinkle by creating artificial moonlight to see the routes that had been cleared through the German minefields. Hubie's F Company was charged with being the first unit to enter the "cleared" mine fields and take the village of Utweiler, which was 15 miles east of Saarbrücken.
Firing squad led by Martin Osterloh, a WW1 vet, with Frank Nelson, Vernon Koenneman, Melbert Moennig, Cecil Doss, Elfred Knaust, Virgil Mattlage, Edward Worm
Military Escorts accompanied every casket sent home. These escorts had a special role as the only government representatives to have face-to-face contact with next of kin. Each was picked from a pool of volunteers, many of them combat veterans asked to reenlist specifically for this mission to assure that someone of the same service branch, race, sex, and equal or higher rank accompanied each deceased soldier. Escorts underwent five weeks of training, including advice from psychiatrists on what to expect and how to respond to reactions and questions. While traveling with remains, escorts were assigned coach or sleeper space, depending on a trip’s duration, and were forbidden to consume alcohol. The escort also carried a new flag for the funeral, blank rounds for the graveside firing party, and reimbursement forms for the family and funeral director. These reimbursement forms signed by August Kleiboeker still remain in the Hubie Scrapbook. The Army initially feared that escorts’ presence would disturb families, but these personnel were universally found to be one of the program’s greatest assets.
On Monday morning, Nov 29th, 1948 at 6:30am, Frisco Train Three rolled into Monett Station. Waiting there on the platform were 22 members of the local Freistatt American Legion Post which was founded in 1946 and named after Hubert H. Kleiboeker, as it remains today. Many of these 22 were part of the original 10 from Freistatt that Hubie trained with prior to leaving for Europe, as seen in the article shown. Also on the train platform were a delegation of Monett area War Dads, all who had lost sons in the war.
Hubie was transported to the Bennett and Wormington Funeral Home in Monett that Monday. On Tuesday, he was then laid in state back at his home on the farm until the final Memorial Service on Sunday December 5th at 2:00 pm. Those six days, August and Hulda's home was the visitation place for all the relatives and close friends. The Military Escort was there each of those six days and participated in the funeral on Sunday.
Hubie left the Freistatt area late in the day on December 27th 1944 and headed back to Camp Hood. But Hubie and his fellow private, Verner Nelson both had orders to be shipped off to Europe. So almost as soon as they arrived at Camp Hood the two received train tickets to take them from Camp to George Field. Somehow they got word to the folks back home to inform them that Verner’s and Hubie train ride from Camp Hood, Texas to Illinois would have a stop and layover at the Monett Train Station. David Kleiboeker remembers seeing Hubie on a cold winter evening at the Monett Train Station. As David was only 2 1/2 years old at the time, and can still remember that meeting 75 years later, he must have picked up on the emotions of his parents, grand parents and aunts and uncles as they said goodbye one last time to Hubert. David remembers being told that the layover was maybe an hour or hour and a half, so that Hubie and his close relatives could all get some hugs in one last time.
George Field was a training base for large troop plane transport that was used for training pilots for the D Day landing. Apparently they were using these training flights to transport Replacement Troops from the midwest Army training bases to the East Coast for eventual ship transport to Europe. Hubie flew on Jan 2nd from there to Camp Mead, outside of Baltimore, MD. It is interesting that Hubie did not write much about his flying experience, as it was novel and definitely a new experience for Hubert. Perhaps he was scared during the flight and did not want to mention it? He seemed to have focused more on breakfast than the flight. At Fort Mead he received some training on new gas masks to be worn if the Germans used chemical warfare but most of his time was spent on being outfitted with all he needed for Europe. He then went to New York on January 6th and boarded a troop transport ship that set sail on January 7th, 1945 for Clyde, Scotland, near Glasgow on the West Coast.
"Oh yes, I think the Air Corp has really got a good deal. We were to leave George Field, Illinois, yesterday at seven AM and we were still in bed at Eight AM, pretty good don't you think? Then when we did get up I thought sure we would get no breakfast but we did. And finally at ten thirty we did leave. We were at the airport up here (in Maryland) at 1 O'clock PM, what the name of it was I don't know."
Letter to Lorene, January 3, 1945
On June 11, 1945, Hubie was given the Purple Heart and it was sent to August and Hulda Kleiboeker with a certificate signed by Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. Hubie was also awarded the Combat Infantry Badge.
Rev. Stelling (left) and Chaplain Grapatin(right) arriving Trinity Lutheran Church for Funeral
Chaplain Grapatin at Hubie's Gravesite in St. Avold France
“I am now at rest camp. I am going to take Communion while I am here….Sometimes when the battle is over and one thinks back what he has gone through, it seems impossible. A man alone could not get through it. It is the Lord's protecting hand that brings one through... Chaplain Grapatin is here and he is ready to go to the church so I will have to close. Tell the Leaguers Hello for me…. Your church member, Hubert."
Letter from Hubie to Pastor Stuenkel; Feb 28, 1945 France
“I guess you think it is about time I write to you. This is Thursday morn. I am at rest camp. I will be here till noon tomorrow. It is about 9 o’clock. I have just got done eating breakfast. I bet you think I am really getting lazy. This is the best rest I have had for a long time. We are off the lines now but may go back any day. But I hope we don’t. I suppose Leona has told you about my surprise meeting Chaplain Grapatin (J. W. Grapatin). I went up and talk(ed) with him last night. I am going to take communion this afternoon. That will be the first time I took communion since I left home.”
Letter from Hubie to Elda; March 1, 1945 France
Chaplain Grapatin's was a former Minister of the Monett Lutheran Church prior to WW2, so he knew many of the Freistatt folks, through joint Walther League (Youth Group) events as well as other local activities. Hubie was the first and only local Lutheran he met during his 4 years overseas. Similarly, Hubie's only encounter with someone he knew was Chaplain Grapatin. At Hubie's funeral service, Chaplain Grapatin shared the following: "Let me tell you some of the details of the story of how Hubie and I met in France in February of 1945. The third Infantry Division had established a Rest Camp in a little town of Bourbon Les Bains. It was a health resort, similar to Hot Springs Arkansas. People from all over the country would come there for the baths. During the war, however, it wasn't used very much by civilians. It was put to good use by the army and served as a good rest camp. Soldiers form the Third Division would be sent back there for a four-day rest. It was an opportunity to rest up from the fatigue of battle, take several good hot baths, and eat good hot meals. Church services were provided every day for the men. A Chaplain was sent there for a period of thirty days to take care of the Services. I was asked if I wanted to take charge of the Services for the month of December. I turned it down. A little later I was asked if I could go in January. I turned it down again, and suggested that I would rather go in February. So at the end of January, I was on my way to the Rest Camp. Had I gone in December or January, I would have never seen Hubert. I feel as though the good Lord directed my decision so that I would be able to minister unto Hubert. Indeed the Lord moves in mysterious ways, His wonder to perform."
Chaplain Grapatin continues: "One day, the 26th of February, 1945, I stopped in at the Red Cross Club about one half hour before my 11am Service to remind the men about the Church Service. The Red Cross Club was in a large building which was arranged as a writing room for the men. There were a number of tables and chairs at which men were sitting, writing letters. I went from table to table reminding the men of the Church Service. I then went back into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I had barely sat down when I heard someone excitedly call "Rev. Grapatin, do you remember me?" I looked up and saw Hubert. I did not recognize him immediately. I said, "No, I can't recall your name off hand but I believe you're from Freistatt." He then said: "I'm Hubert Kleiboeker". I asked him to sit down with me. We talked about the people from Freistatt. It had been over two and a half years since I had left Monett. I didn't expect to see anyone from the Monett or Freistatt area over here in France. Hubert was the first Lutheran of the Monett area that I had met overseas. It was time for the Church Service, and Hubert and I went over to the Auditorium. Hubert attended all four services. It was during the season of Lent, so I preached about Jesus our Savior, who suffered and died for our sins. I spent a lot of time with Hubert those four days. I made several trips in the afternoons to some of our hospitals located nearby. Hubert rode along with us. My driver was a Lutheran from Wisconsin. We talked a lot about Freistatt and Monett, the church, the Walther League and other matters of interest to both of us. Then on the first of March we were to return to our respective regiments: I to the 15th, Hubert to the 7th. Before leaving the camp, Hubert requested the Lord's Supper. I served it to him in my room just shortly before we were to leave. When you think about it now, wasn't it really by the Grace of God that Hubert and I were in the same little town in France at the same time? There in the little town of Bourbon les Bains, over 5 thousand miles from home, Hubert heard four sermons about his Savior and also partook of the Lord's Supper. --- Soon after that we had to leave. I can still see Hubert sitting in the truck, smiling and waving "Goodbye". I had no idea then that would be the last time I would ever see him again."
Hubert's Grave with Army issued Tombstone 1950's
Hubie's Funeral Service of April 29, 1945. Note the banner on the right with the 53 blue stars. Now there was a bronze star on the table to the left of Hubie's picture but Hubie was still in Europe
Family Info and great history
Hubie arriving Trinity Lutheran
"About two weeks ago I dreamed all night about Hubie. He had gotten so tired and fell asleep, and got lost from his company but found them again. And the other night I dreamed we had a letter written March 17th so maybe he has written a letter on that date in a prison camp. Let's hope my dreams come true. They have before..... Always thinking of Hubie and you, if Hubie is a prisoner, we no doubt won't hear anything from him until after they finally quit fighting unless our armies get to the camp before that. We know God is good and pray he will bring our Hubie back."
Letter to Leona Kleiboeker from sister Elda Haunschild, April 9th, 1945
This box was shipped by the US Army Depot to Hubie's father and contained items Hubie had carried with him during the war. It included photos of his friend Doris, his special nephew, David, his parents and his sisters Elda and Leona. It also included his Lutheran Communicant Member's Card, his driver's license, fishing license, Infantry Training Certificate and prayer books and one letter to his parents which he started but never finished.
We are indebted to all young US soldiers, not only in WW2. For us, who are part of the greater Kleiboeker Family we especially remember and thank and honor our dear Hubert. Kleiboekers began arriving in the US from Germany as far back as 1834. Hubert was the first descendant of any Kleiboeker to return to Germany. But he was there less than a day. He was killed within 320 miles (510 km) of the original Kleiboeker farmstead where his ancestors had lived.
Hubert was full of life and energy and blessed with a generous heart. From his many letters, it was clear that he cared about his family, the farm, his local church and community and was steadfast in his faith. We can be proud to have had such a patriotic relative who gave his all for all of us.
Dennis R. Kruse
Nephew of Uncle Hubert
Originally written August 30, 2010, updated August 2020 with special thanks to Aletha Kleiboeker Schoen, David Kleiboeker, Orville Osterloh, June Kleiboeker Huff, Anita Kleiboeker Breazeale, Karen Kleiboeker, and Jane Schnelle Mayden for their stories remembered, artifacts collected and overall help with this document. Special thanks to all of Hubert's siblings, now no longer with us, who collected and saved all his letters, newspaper articles, pictures, telegrams and things that were special to Hubert H Kleiboeker.