“A real soldier just died, men.”

LaVern Fred Sackett was killed in action on 8 December 1944 while serving as a sergeant in the American Expeditionary Force in Germany during the Second World War.
War correspondent Jack Bell’s compelling account appeared in a number of American newspapers.
LaVern’s son is Sackett Family Association member #100 Fred Sackett.

LaVern Fred Sackett (1922–1944)

Jack Bell In Germany
Sgt. Sackett Dies But U.S. Victory Is a Little Nearer

By Jack Bell
Herald War Correspondent
With American forces in Germany (via Bomber Packet, Delayed)—Sgt. LaVern Sackett’s day of drama written gloriously across the pages of American history, came to him just beyond the city of Koslar along the Roer river in western Germany.
     The quiet, light-haired lad from Kalamazoo walked the battlefield with the fire and daring of Gen. Jackson himself, and tonight not a German gunner fires from the west bank of the river.
     The 115th had the assignment to smash all resistance west of the river in this sector, a Jerry stronghold entrenched in a huge sports stadium and swimming pool.
     Sgt. Sackett awoke at 3:30 a.m., assembled his platoon and they waited for orders to move. Soon they were in the open, moving across the large flat pasture toward the river.
     Seven hundred yards from the arena they encountered a company from another regiment moving back. At just that moment the Jerries opened with burp guns. The men of the withdrawing company broke and ran, taking with them some of the fresh company, men who, in the confusion, thought a general retreat was on.
Sergeant Sticks
     Sgt. Sackett ordered his men into trenches, left by the Germans. They were shallow and half-filled with water. The men dared not move, and at dawn a German self-propelled gun rolled down to the river and fired point blank at them.
     Mortars rolled in, too, and after an hour a number of the men decided to make a break for the woods 300 yards to the rear. The sergeant ordered his men to stick with him. They obeyed, though the Jerries were giving them hell.
     As morning advanced American planes came roaring low and the Jerry battery silenced, not wanting to show positions. The machine gunners and rifle men also dropped into their holes when the American planes strafed the whole area. Sgt. Sackett crawled forward, his men trailing.
Stroke of Genius
     Many had been hit, a few killed. They couldn’t evade a burp gunner set up in the corner of the swimming pool, so moved—not quite sure where they were going—between the arena and the pool, clear to the river.
     Now, it developed that Sgt. Sackett’s selection of position was a stroke of genius. It was so daring the Germans didn’t dream he had done it. A Jerry stuck his head up over the river bank. An American gunner took good aim and knocked him dead.
     Another German immediately came up to see what had happened, and he, too, was killed.
     Sgt. Sackett deployed his men—he had but 14—so they could command a long stretch of the river bank, the near corner of the swimming pool on their right and a stone house on the left, and they were in a depression which hid them from all three positions.
No Right To Be There
     These 15 men lay low and shot true from mid-morning until 3 in the afternoon. No Americans were near them. They knew nothing about the rest of the war. But every time a Jerry showed his head he was picked off.
     The Jerries, unable to find where the bullets came from, kept coming toward that area, feeling sure no Americans would be so foolish as to be there. And none who came got away to report.
     Sgt. Sackett left his men at 3 o’clock and worked his way back to the battalion command post. “We’ve got to get some information, sir,” he reported. “We’re 200 yards from the swimming pool but no Americans are near us.”
     “We’ll soon fix that,” said the colonel. “I want you, sergeant, to get in this tank and lead these two assault guns up to that pool. Can you get them close enough?”
‘It’ll Be Dangerous’
     “If they don’t get knocked out,” replied the sergeant. “It’s naked out there. If you’ll knock out two pill boxes in there we’ll take the pool. I’ve 14 damn good soldiers up there.”
     “Can you get back to them?”
     “I got out. You never know. I’ll try.”
     “Well, you stay with the tanks. We’ll send a runner to your men and tell them to move soon as the tanks do their job.”
     “Are your tanks well armored?” he asked the tank officer.
     “No,” he replied. “They’re really not tanks. They’re mounts for assault guns and built for speed.”
     “It’ll be dangerous then.”
     “Sure,” he said. “Are you ready, sergeant?”
     “Let’s go,” was Sgt. Sackett’s quiet response. “Can you hit them corners?”
     “You’re damn right, we can. We’ll show you.”
Sort of ‘Let Down’
     An hour later, as I lay along an embankment up front looking at the arena and wreckage of the pool Sgt. Sackett came along. The runner sent to his gallant fourteen hadn’t reached them. At least they hadn’t moved into the pool. The doughty little soldier dropped beside me.
     “I’m weak as a kitten,” he said soberly. “When I get into a thing like this battle I’m mad as hell; want to go get the jerries, kill ’em all. And it was fun watching the tanks knock that pool down, after I knew we were out of that counter fire. Now, it’s quiet for a minute or two and I’m sort of let down.”
     The lad seemed mystified at his condition, unaware that less courageous men would have folded. Not realizing that he had been under tremendous strain for 14 hours. I tried to talk quiet chatter to him, but ’twas not easy, lying out there under zooming planes, the thunder of guns, the deadly cracking machine gunners.
‘We’re Whittled Down’
     “What now?” I asked finally.
     “I’m trying to work my way back to the platoon—what’s left of it,” he said. “They’re all right, those 14 men. I started this morning with 40. Now we’re whittled down to 17, those 14, two radio men with a set that won’t work, and me.”
     “You’ve had quite a day,” I suggested.
     “Yes,” he said, slinging his carbine over his shoulder in preparation to move, “but a good day. We got a lot of them today, and every one we get brings the war nearer to the end. This is no place for Americans. I want to go home.”
     “Good luck to you,” I said.
     “I’ll need it,” he replied. “I’ve got to go across some open space, and jerry can look right down my throat. Good bye to you—and don’t take too many chances.”
     I watched him slipping through the woods toward the open pasture. I turned back, for darkness was near, and worked toward the battalion C.P., thinking of the rare courage, the responsibility, the gigantic stature these lads attain under the thunders of war.
     They got Sgt. Sackett late this afternoon. He never got across that open space. They brought him back to the company, still alive, but all knew . . .
     “We got a lot of ’em,” he said, “but they got me. I’d liked a crack at the Rhine, but . . .”
     Then he died, and no one spoke in the crowded cellar . . . until the colonel said, “A real soldier just died, men.”

The Miami Herald, Florida, 17 Jan 1945, p. 13.

See also LaVern Fred Sackett on the Sackett Family Association website.

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