Dutch National
(now American citizen)
John Althuizen's
Experiences with 7th Armored Division

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Last updated: October 24, 2016 - What's New?
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The following information is from conversations that I had with John Althuizen on 24-25 January & 23 July 2008, regarding his experiences with the Dutch Underground, with Company B of 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (B/23) and with the U. S. Army in Europe after the end of World War II. He served in the U. S. Army from 22 October 1994 until 15 November 1946. He has many post-war photos from Ballenberg, Germany. His only combat-period photos are one from Bad Godesburg, Germany and one from the Hürtgen Forest in Germany.

Contents

  1. Hiding from the Germans in the Dutch Underground (before October 1945)
  2. Member of 7th Armored Division (October 1944 - August 1945)
  3. U. S. Army after 7th Armored Division (August 1945 - November 1946)
  4. More Recent Events

Hiding from the Germans in the Dutch Underground
(before October 1945)

John Althuizen in center

John Althuizen was living with his parents in Deurne, in the south-eastern Netherlands (the easternmost area of the province of Noord-Brabant, about 10 miles east of Eindhoven). The Germans attacked and occupied the Netherlands in May 1940. They eventually began requiring the Dutch to report for transportation to forced labor inside Germany. When John received word that he was to report, he went into hiding, which lasted for 2 years. During this time, he assisted the Dutch Underground in keeping downed Allied pilots out of the hands of the Germans, so that the pilots could be taken to the Allied lines in Belgium.

The first year of his hiding was spent with a family that owned a bar in the small town of Reutum, near Almelo and Enschede (province of Overijssel, about 80 miles northeast of Deurne). Neither the family nor anyone else in the town knew his real name, so that both he and they were protected from the Germans. He went by the name of Jan Knubbel while he was in hiding there. He worked on a farm, but he had to leave when the Germans came into the area in force.

This move was a big one, taking him far to the south to the very small town of Someren-Eind, about 3 miles north of Nederweert (province Limburg), along the west side of the Zuid Willemsvaart (also known as the Bois le Duc) Canal. He hid in a hut in the woods. It was here that he helped save downed Allied pilots from capture by the Germans. He brought them to a farmer who hid them in a haystack until the Underground could come to help them and return them to the Allies in Belgium. But the Germans realized that the pilots had been helped. So the Germans came looking for those who had helped the pilots, and John again had to leave his hiding place and find a new one.

He then went to several different places. But then he heard that the British were coming, and he returned to his home town of Deurne and remained in hiding there. The British liberated Eindhoven on 18 September 1944 and then liberated Deurne soon after (one source that I found shows the liberation of Deurne as 24 September 1944).


Member of 7th Armored Division
(October 1944 - August 1945)

The British remained in the area for about two weeks, until near the end of September 1944. Then the U. S. 7th Armored Division arrived. The headquarters of one part of the Division was set up in Deurne, and the underground asked local men to guard it. The Americans went up to the battle area at Overloon during the day and returned to the headquarters in Deurne at night.

The 7th Armored Division was then pulled out of the attack on Overloon but remained in the area, and John continued at the headquarters. On 22 October 1944, John was asked by a B/23 officer nicknamed Navajo (this was then-2nd Lt. Joe Whiteman) and 1st Sgt. Frederick Mabb if he wanted to join up with the 7th Armored Division. They ordered some men to take John to his house, so that John could ask his parents' permission. They agreed. So there in his home, John changed into an American Army uniform and received his helmet and rifle.

That same evening, he was sent up to positions near Griendtsveen and Helenaveen. He was in a foxhole with Bob Lowery, the radio man. The 7th Armored Division had recently relieved the 2nd Scots Division there. The Germans launched a large attack on 27 October 1944. They had been taken up to the positions at Griendtsveen in their half-tracks, but since it was swampy, the half-tracks were pulled far back. So when they pulled out of the positions at Griendtsveen they had to walk about half a day back to the half-tracks.

After the third day of the German attack, the zones were changed, and B/23 went into reserve at Nederweert, where they were in 2-man tents all over a field in bivouac for about a week. The Division was then pulled out of combat and moved south to the Maastricht area. B/23 was at Eckelrade. There John got PX privileges and food, as well as doughnuts at the Red Cross. He also got to know a local girl. Her parents thought things were serious enough to follow tradition and call John's parents to ask about him. But B/23 then moved on to Klimmen, where John got to know another local girl.

Since John was not on the U. S. Army payroll, he received no pay for his service. Instead the guys passed around a helmet and each put in a dollar. So John says "I made more money than the Captain did!"

At Klimmen, there was a rumor that they might be able to go to Paris. But the Germans had other plans and launched the 16 December 1944 attack that began the Battle of the Bulge. 7th Armored Division moved to the Veilsalm-Poteau-St. Vith area in Belgium. B/23 eventually went into position on the front line southeast of St. Vith. During the Bulge, John had a Browning Automatic Rifle, a BAR, which was heavy but could fire rapidly. He was wounded in the right index finger and suffered frozen feet.

On 21 December 1944, the Germans made a massed attack at many points along the line, and many men of B/23 were surrounded and captured. But before the attack John had gone to the rear for food, so that he was not with the rest of B/23 when they were captured. The Division had pulled out of St. Vith, and John was lost for 2 days as he tried to make his way back to American lines with others from 23 AIB. They eventually made it to Trois Ponts and then well to the west at Hamois.

At Hamois, they were allowed to fraternize with the Belgian civilians, and since John was able to speak French as well as German and Dutch and English, he got along well with a local girl. During the Bulge, the Germans had a force of their men who dressed in American uniforms. So there was a great deal of unease among the GIs about this. The fact that John spoke with a Dutch accent and not a German accent was a fine point that was not recognized by most Americans. This almost got John killed. He had walked his girl friend back to her house, and it was about 6 or 7 PM and dark out and was returning to B/23. Suddenly he heard a shouted command "Halt!" It was a GI on guard duty, and he asked John for the password. The password was Smokey Mountain, but John only managed to get out something about mountain. The GI put a clip into the grease gun he was carrying and shot at John without at once. Fortunately for John, the clip popped out of the grease gun and fell on the ground, and just then John's Lt. came out and asked what John was doing. He then cautioned John that he should stay near his squad, since all the guys knew him, so that he would not be mistaken for a German in an American uniform.

Since he had been wounded and also suffered frozen feet, John was sent for a week to the U. S. Army hospital in Liège, Belgium. While he was there, the order came down that all foreign nationals fighting as members of the U. S. Army were to be taken back to their homes and not to enter Germany with the U. S. forces. Since John was in the hospital, he was not there when the order came down. And when he returned, no one enforced the order in his case. This is what allowed John to continue with 7th Armored Division far longer than any other foreign national.

After John returned, the 7th Armored Division moved east to the Rhine River in Germany. B/23 was in the area of Bad Godesburg, Germany. They remained there for a couple of weeks and then crossed the Rhine and began the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket. The 7th Armored Division attacked south along the autobahn toward Limburg but were then sent east, toward Giessen and Wetzlar. And it was here that combat came to a painful end for John -- and the deaths of about six others. (After St. Vith, there were many new men in B/23, and John was shifted to whatever squad needed a place filled: "every week I was in a different squad". So he does not know who the men were who were killed when he was wounded.) They were riding on a tank, and the tank was hit. John was seriously wounded all over his body. The date was 13 April 1945, the day that they learned that President Roosevelt had died. (See more on this action below.)

John was sent to a U. S. Army hospital in Paris. He had no dogtags, and his uniform was destroyed by the hit that wounded him. He had no papers to vouch for his service with the U. S. Army. One day an officer asked what this damn German was doing in the hospital and ordered them to get hiim out of there. So John was sent to a French hospital. After about a month, he was able to move around on crutches. He happened to come across some of the guys from B/23 who were in Paris on leave, since by then the war in Europe was over. He went with them to Ballenberg, Germany (near Heilbron, in Baden-Württemberg), where he rejoined B/23 and saw 2d Lt. Ralph Jones.


The Wolf Call
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion Weekly Newspaper
Eilenburg, Germany - Monday, June 18, 1945 - Vol. 1, No. 1

Recently a highly respected member of this outfit returned for duty after a stay in the hospital. Johnie Althuizen, a Dutch national who joined us the 23rd of Nov [sic - actually was Oct] 44, at Station Pleins, A 72 Deurne NB, Holland (his home address). Wounded at Wallerode and evacuated to American hospital, Johnie was transferred to a Dutch hosptial and nearly taken into the Dutch Army before he got back. During fighting in the Ruhr Pocket he was hit and evacuated to an American hospital, later transferred to a French Hospital. The Evac. Hospitals never seemed to take into consideration that he was actually serving with the American Army and SNAFUed the works, transferring him to another countries Hospitals. Johnie did join up with us for 3 very good reasons: To kill Germans (he has a very excellent record at this job), to fight the Japs (very possible), and last but not least to become an American citizen and go to live in America. One of his brothers is missing in action as a member of the Canadian Army. The rest of his family mother, father, one brother and five sisters are at hime in Holland. PS-Paris was "O.K.", in every way Johnie said.



Report on 13 Apr 1945 Action

  • William Eugene Jones, Buzzings of Company 'B', p. 41:
    "On the thirteenth of April the company took the lead position as they left out of Binolen and started a drive toward Balen, Germany. Little progress was made on this mission as enemy resistance slowed down the movement. It just happened to be Friday the thirteenth and it seemed that it was a most unlucky day for Company B. [T/Sgt Curtis] Sewell was injured which caused the loss of his left leg, Hollis Porter was killed; so was [Sgt Francis] Canavan, [Pvt Stanley] Casto and [Pvt Jack] Nile. [Sgt Henry] Hodges and [S/Sgt Junius] Koonce were among the others wounded."


U. S. Army after 7th Armored Division
(August 1945 - November 1946)

After the war, about August 1944, a large contingent of 7th Armored Division men were transferred to the 1st Armored Division, because of the point system that determined who got to go home to the States. John went with them to 1st Armored Division, where he served as an interpreter in the 12th Constabulary Squadron. Their job was to inspect the towns and speak with the mayors in the area between the Russian and American zones of occupation.

John stayed with the U. S. Army for another year and a half, until 15 November 1946. He was finally given a visa to allow him to enter the United States, where he has lived ever since.


NEW John Althuizen's 2008 visit to Leroy Dawson NEW

In April 2008, John Althuizen and his wife Jeanne traveled from California to Maryland to visit Leroy Dawson, one of John's buddies from their days in Company "B" of 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion. The local news media covered the visit, and the Associated Press picked up the story in May, so that many newspapers carried the story. Here are links to the two versions of the story:

For those wanting to learn more about B/23, see the 7th Armored Division Document Repository, where you will find Gene Jones' memoir and Felix Neff's memoir.


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