551st Parachute Infantry Battalion Roll of Honor
by Les Hughes
© by author 2006
Dan Morgan's 110
The number of men of the 551st to have died in combat while serving with the battalion has been a matter of controversy since the Army’s Center of Military History (CMH) challenged the battalion's Battle of the Bulge casualty figures cited in the veterans' application for a Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) and cited in Gregory Orfalea’s book.1 Those casualty figures appear to be largely the ones compiled by Dan Morgan in writing his history of the battalion.2
While Mr. Orfalea appears to agree with Mr. Morgan’s number of those killed in combat (110),3 unlike Mr. Morgan, he chose not to include in his book a list of their names. If Mr. Orfalea could devote a full page to a list of the names of the 90 veterans of the 551st whom he interviewed for his book, then why not equal space for the names of the men he believes died in the service of the battalion and their country? Here was an opportunity to memorialize these men, and he chose not to. I think Mr. Orfalea understood how problematic that list is. (Two, perhaps three, of Mr. Morgan's 110 were members of the 551st Association at the time Mr. Orfalea was writing his book, and both Mr. Orfalea and Mr. Morgan acknowledge that the list of 110 includes former battalion members who died serving with other units.)
The manner in which Mr. Morgan compiled his list of the battalion’s 110 war dead must be understood before proceeding. There were two sources of the 110 names: (a) the records of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and (b) the recollections of the 551st veterans. The former proved to be incomplete, and the latter, 35 years after the facts, often proved to be innacurate.
Circa 1980, a group of ladies, under the direction of the wife of a veteran of the battalion, visited the ABMC and searched its records of war dead for the names of members of the 551st. Judging from the results of that search, I infer two things. First, at that time the records of the ABMC comprised both the war dead interred in ABMC military cemeteries abroad and interred in national cemeteries in the US. Today that is not the case: ABMC records (now online) comprise only war dead interred in ABMC military cemeteries abroad; the records of those interred in the US are now under the control of the Army’s Office of Casualty and Memorial Affairs, and are accessible only via FOIA requests. Because of the expense of FOIA enquiries, it was not practical for me to obtain the dates of death of those that Mr. Morgan lists as interred in the US. Second, it is apparent that the ladies were provided with the names and Army Service Numbers (ASN) of everyone who had served, regardless of when or for how long, in the 551st, because Mr. Morgan’s list includes the names of a number of former battalion members interred abroad who were in other units at the time of their death. The same may be true of those on Mr. Morgan's list who are interred in the US.
I was in touch with Mr. Morgan in the early 1980s and obtained from him material that included a copy of his book, the roster of over 1,200 551st personnel he had compiled, a partial (though extensive) roster listing the homes-of-record of many of the men, and his accounting of 551st dead that included those who died in the tragic night jump at Camp Mackall.
In 2006 I twice visited the CMH at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Virginia, to examine its file on the 551st. From the CMH's file, I obtained copies of all the battalion’s Bulge Casualty Reports and many of its Morning Reports from that period. (The CMH had all of the battalion's Morning Reports from the Bulge, but I did not have time to copy them all.) Using the materials from Mr. Morgan and the CMH, I compiled a complete list of the battalion’s Bulge casualties. By committing the list to a spreadsheet, I was able to sort it by name, rank, army service numbers (ASN), type of casualty, date of casualty, date of report, or company. And I revisited Mr. Morgan’s list of 110 dead using the Bulge casualty list and the online databases of war dead of the ABMC and the National Archives (NARA).4 (The ABMC's database lists date of death; NARA's does not.)
A comment regarding the Morning Reports and the Casualty Reports of the 551st is in order before proceeding. In his history of the 551st, Gregory Orfalea disparages the accuracy the battalion's Morning Reports during its action in the Battle of the Bulge. Indeed, Mr. Orfalea appears to suggest that the Morning Reports may have been suppressed, perhaps even fabricated, when he says: "These figures are culled from the battalion's January 1945 Morning Reports, which, strangely, were lost to all previous researchers, including myself and Morgan, for half a century."5 Morning Reports are held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, not at NARA. In fact, a 551st veteran who lived in the St. Louis area provided Mr. Morgan with copies of many of the battalion's Morning Reports for the period August through December 1944.6 Why he did not obtain the Morning Reports for January and February 1945 is impossible to determine at this point in time. But rather than believing that the Army intentionally withheld the reports (why would it?), it is more reasonable to believe that a request for Morning Reports from the CMH, acting under the authority of the Secretary of the Army, elicited the full cooperation of the NPRC, whereas a request from a civilian researcher did not. (Mr. Orfalea does not indicate when or from whom he sought copies of the battalion's Morning Reports.)
Let us examine further the matter of the battalion's Morning Reports. Mr. Orfalea states: "Though the Morning Reports are reliable for unit strength before battle, after the counteroffensive started they became notoriously incomplete and unreliable. And that is not so unnatural given the extremely cold weather, constant attack movements, isolation, loss of radio and telephone communications, and other vicissitudes of one of the most arduous combat scenes in U.S. history."7 This assertion ignores an important fact: the 551st was withdrawn from combat after the assault on Rochelinval and spent the final month of its existence recuperating and regrouping—one month for the battalion to get a handle on its casualty statistics and for its Morning Reports and Casualty Reports to reflect them.
If, as Mr. Orfalea claims, the Morning Reports are unreliable, one might reasonably wonder what he does find reliable. The answer is revealing. "The G-3 Report for January 3, 1945, of the 82d Airborne cites casualties for the 551st that day of 18 officers and 171 enlisted men, including 2 officers and 29 enlisted men killed; based on 643 men going into battle that morning, this equals a 29 percent casualty rate, reported as of 1800 hours or 6 P.M. The integral 82d regiments suffered between 15 and 25 percent casualties that first day of the counteroffensive. Inexplicably, the CMH report on which the Army relied to deny the PUC to the 551st, cites a GOYA casualty figure one-third the size of the official record: 61 vs 189."8
This argument may appear reasonable to the casual reader, but it falls apart when examined critically. First, unlike Morning Reports, G-3 Reports have never been an official record for personnel reporting. And as for reliability, consider what a G-3 report is. The G-3 is the Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations and Plans, and the report in question, issued by his section, would have described the operational status of the 82nd Airborne Division and its elements, and the situation confronting them based on the best intelligence available at the time. Necessarily, if they are to be timely, these situation reports will contain information that has not been verified—the people who use these reports understand this and view their contents, especially when the situation is fluid, as the best estimates available. Even more relevant is the fact the G-3 Report was compiled at the division level. How would the division's G-3 Section have known the number of casualties suffered by the 551st, an attached battalion, except by relying on reports from the 551st? And in doing so, the authors of the G-3 Report would have had to rely on input from the same people responsible for the battalion's "unreliable" Morning Reports. Furthermore, one can reasonably imagine that at the time the G-3 Report was issued, January 3, the first day of the counteroffensive and a day of heavy fighting for the 551st, that the fog of war obscured much. Labeling the battalion's Morning Reports unreliable, reports issued daily during the six weeks the unit was in the Ardennes, while touting as "the official record" the casualty figures of a single G-3 Report is, I think, an argument in the service of a story-line. (The battalion's own casualty report for the action of January 3, issued nine days later, lists one officer and 16 EM killed, and one officer and 40 EM wounded—58 casualties, a figure far closer to the 61 of the CMH than to the 189 of the G-3 Report.)
Battle of the Bulge Casualties
Ten Casualty Reports—the first dated 3 January; the last 8 February—were submitted by 1LT Hugh Robinson, the battalion's Assistant Adjutant. The reports are detailed: each entry comprising the casualty's name, rank, ASN, company, type of casualty, and date of casualty. The lengthiest report was that of 12 January, which contains 156 entries. By contrast, the final three reports—from 25 January to 8 February—contain only 24 entries: four died of wounds and 20 returned to duty.
The battalion's Casualty Reports from the Battle of the Bulge can be summarized as follows:
* Three survived; one KIA, included in 38. ‡ One died of wounds, included in 8. + Includes five from injuries incurred in S. France
One might wonder whether some of the wounded died after the battalion was disbanded and, thus, should be included among the battalion's dead. To answer this question, I checked each of the men deemed to have been seriously wounded against NARA's database of war dead and found none listed.
There is a significant disparity between the above accounting of the battalion's casualties for the Ardennes campaign and what was believed by Morgan, Orfalea, and the battalion's veterans. Morgan reports instances of men having received minor wounds that they treated themselves or that were treated by medics or buddies, and then the men returned to the line without having been officially a casualty. I have no doubt that this occurred, but to what extent it reduced the battalion's casualty statistics is anybody's guess. Obviously, such a source of ambiguity does not extend to the number of dead. Mr. Morgan wrote: "It is highly likely that our killed-in-action in the Bulge alone should run to at least 160."9 That estimate was weighted—heavily, it appears—by the battalion's veterans' recollections of that chaotic and traumatic period. In fact, the casualty statistics of the XVIII Airborne Corps lists 163 as the total number of men killed in the 509th and 551st PIBs and the 517th PRCT for the entire Battle of the Bulge (see Comparative Statistics below).
Casualties for All Actions
one carefully examines Mr. Morgan’s list of 110 dead, one finds the following:
The following is Mr. Morgan’s list of the 110 men of the battalion he believed to have died in action. I have broken the list into sections based on my review of the list.
I. Men on Morgan’s
list verified as having been killed in action (KIA), died of wounds
(DOW), died of injuries (DOI), or for whom there was a finding of
death (FOD) while serving with the 551st PIB.
* Died of wounds (DOW) is the official casualty designation for Wilbur Banks according to NARA, but he is listed as KIA on the battalion's casualty report of 12 January 1945.
**The story of Joseph Edgerly is addressed on a separate page. See links on this page.
† The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Record of Burial Place of Veteran for Wright (filed in 1948) lists his unit as the non-existent "301st Paratroop Div." (Find A Grave memorial 51899714). Given Wright's date of death, a day that accounted for most of the battalion's dead in southern France, his place on Morgan's list appears to be justified.
II. Men who appear on the battalion’s Bulge
casualty reports but not on Morgan’s list of 110. (McManus and Wright do not
appear on Morgan’s master 551st roster, which suggests they
may have been replacements.)
These men, with one exception, are among Morgan’s
110 but were serving
with other units at the time of their death.
The exception is Justin N. Worthington, who is not on Morgan's list of
casualties but who is on Morgan's battalion roster. Worthington, an EM on the battalion's Mackall roster
of December 1943, left the battalion at some point, as he was commissioned
from Officer Candidate Class #344 in August 1944. He held the rank of 1LT
and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time
of his death.
The exception is Justin N. Worthington, who is not on Morgan's list of casualties but who is on Morgan's battalion roster. Worthington, an EM on the battalion's Mackall roster of December 1943, left the battalion at some point, as he was commissioned from Officer Candidate Class #344 in August 1944. He held the rank of 1LT and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of his death.
* Orfalea claims these three men (Baldwin, Opitz, and Rolland) died during the Bulge but with other units. This claim is lent support by the fact that none appears on the battalion’s Bulge casualty lists, and in the case of Rolland, the ABMC confirms his being with another unit. Morgan indicates Opitz transferred to the 504th.
+ Orfalea, in a photo caption, criticizes the CMH's study of the battalion's casualties for including Gould among the battalion's wounded but not among its dead. In fact, the CMH was correct: Gould had only been wounded while with the battalion; he died serving with another unit.
‡ According to Orfalea (p. 171), Tatro was a member of the 551st when killed. Later in his book (p. 360), he recounts the experience of a 551st veteran, and a friend of Tatro's, who, long after the war, sought and found Tatro's grave, on which it identified Tatro's unit, much to his friend's anger, as the 460th PFAB, a unit that participated in the invasion of southern France. Tatro's name, however, does not appear on any roster of 551st personnel that I have seen (my roster, largely the one compiled by Morgan, exceeds 1,200 names), and his Report of Death, while not listing his unit, lists his Arm of Service as "FA," for Field Artillery.
Men on Morgan’s
list believed to have been killed but who do not appear on
NARA’s or ABMC's databases of WWII dead and missing.
* Died 6/8/1946, interred Galveston, TX. (Glenn Stover, personal communication 8/27/2010.)
the 551st whose deaths were ruled not
battle-related, of whom five appear among
The list includes the eight men who parachuted into a lake and drowned
during a night jump at Camp Mackall on 16 February 1944. Morgan states
(pp. 115-117) that in addition to the eight who drowned, a ninth man died
"on landing." Battalion veteran Albert Garretty, in his
unpublished wartime memoir, written independently of Morgan (Garretty died
in 1986, never having made contact with the 551st Association),
also put the number of deaths that night at nine. Whether there was a
ninth death that night, and who he was, is a mystery. (It is tempting to
speculate that he may have been Felix Hughes. But Hughes, unlike the eight
known to have died that night, does not appear on the battalion's roster
of December 1943.)
The list includes the eight men who parachuted into a lake and drowned during a night jump at Camp Mackall on 16 February 1944. Morgan states (pp. 115-117) that in addition to the eight who drowned, a ninth man died "on landing." Battalion veteran Albert Garretty, in his unpublished wartime memoir, written independently of Morgan (Garretty died in 1986, never having made contact with the 551st Association), also put the number of deaths that night at nine. Whether there was a ninth death that night, and who he was, is a mystery. (It is tempting to speculate that he may have been Felix Hughes. But Hughes, unlike the eight known to have died that night, does not appear on the battalion's roster of December 1943.)
*Part of Morgan’s 110.
**PVT John L. Wafford is listed among "C" Company's personnel on the battalion roster that accompanied the Christmas 1943 dinner menu, nicely printed as a souvenir, when the battalion was at Camp Mackall. Morgan, too, lists him by this name on his roster, along with the notation "KITraining," for killed in training. But NARA's enlistment and casualty databases list him as John L. Wadford, whose serial number is the one that Morgan has for John Wafford. (If one examines the standard keyboard, one finds that "f" and "d" are next to one another, which suggests that a typographic error may account for the difference.) And he appears in the 1940 US Census as Lewis Wadford, Lewis, apparently, being his middle name. I have chosen Wadford over Wafford because of the reasons cited and because that is the name on his headstone (Find A Grave memorial 39267357).
VI. Men on Morgan’s
list known to have survived the war.
Although effectively a glider unit, the 550th IAB can be considered the sister unit of the 551st: they served alongside one another in Panama and southern France; each fought in the Bulge (although in different sectors); and they were disbanded within three weeks of one another. An examination of the combat deaths suffered by both units reveals similar totals. (The figures for the 550th are from Justin Buckeridge's history of the unit, Bolt from the Blue.10)
Despite fighting in different areas of the Ardennes (the 550th about 6 miles west of Bastogne; the 551st about 25 miles north northeast of Bastogne), the first week of January 1945 was a bloody one for both battalions. The ABMC's database lists 22 dead in the 550th for the period 4-6 January and 14 in the 551st for the period 3-8 January. (ABMC lists only the dead interred in its US military cemeteries abroad; nevertheless, the figures serve as a barometer of the level of combat during the periods in question.)
The Battle of the Bulge casualty figures for the 550th were not available to me, but those of other units are.
*My figures, taken from the Casualty Reports of the 551st.
With the exception of the figures marked with an asterisk, the Actual Figures for KIA (killed in action), WIA (wounded in action), and NBC (nonbattle casualties) are taken from the cumulative casualty statistics of the XVIII Airborne Corps as of 9 February 1945. (That report lists the the 551st as having 43 KIA and 170 WIA.) The three columns to the right, relative rates per man, are a gauge of the relative probability that a man suffer that type of casualty in the course of that unit's exposure to combat during the Battle of the Bulge. For example, a man who spent eight days in combat with the 551st was twice as likely to be killed as a man who spent 37 days in combat with the 517th and 70% more likely than one who spent 24 days in combat with the 509th. At the same time, the relatively high rate of nonbattle casualties in the 551st is apparent. (As discussed in the section on the history of the 551st, the high incidence of nonbattle casualties in the battalion appears to have stemmed from the battalion's decision to have the men remove their overshoes and overcoats before the assault of 3 January.)
The highest award for valor received by a member of the 551st was the Distinguished Service Cross, of which there were two recipients: PFC Milo C. Huempfner and CPL Robert H. Hill. In the course of writing this (July 2007), I learned of claims that a veteran of Company A, then deceased, had been a recipient of the DSC. But a copy of this individual's service record, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reflects his having received only the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
1. Gregory Orfalea, Messengers of the Lost Battalion (New York: The Free Press. 1997). The importance of Mr. Orfalea and his book to the effort of the 551st veterans to secure a Presidential Unit Citation for the battalion cannot be understated. Mr. Orfalea was a key player in the effort; indeed, he appears to have authored the material the veterans submitted in seeking the PUC, and in doing so he invoked the statistics, the evidence, and the conclusions he cites in his book.
2. Dan Morgan, The Left Corner of My heart (Wauconda: Alder Enterprises. 1984).
3. "...bringing the number of 551st dead to just over a hundred." Orfalea, p. 321.
4. Both databases are accessible through www.wwiimemorial.com
5. Orfalea, 390.
6. Morgan, 363.
7. Orfalea, 390.
8. Orfalea, 386.
9. Morgan, 514.
10. My thanks to Gary E. Banas, who has Buckeridge's original manuscript, for supplying the figure for the 550th.