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Lieutenant Roland Luerich, Jr. served as a combat engineer in the 175th Engineering Battalion before transferring to the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion that was part of the 1st Armored Division. Many people get the notion that engineers built roads and bridges and were not exposed to hazardous combat duty. This is the story of a combat engineer who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Lt. Roland Luerich was born December 16, 1916, in Milford, PA, and raised in Elizabeth, NJ. He was the son of a Methodist minister who served as a chaplain in the first World War. Like “preacher’s kids” everywhere, he found himself constantly proving himself, becoming quite adept at fighting as he navigated the streets of
Jersey. Incredibly handsome, he developed the charisma to go with his looks, but during his freshman year at the , he realized he needed more discipline in his life. He enrolled at the Citadel, in Universityof Alabama , graduating in 1942, a Golden Gloves boxing champion and qualified engineer. Charleston, SC
Lt. Roland Luerich left the Citadel and joined the Army where he was trained at Fort Belvoir, VA, Fort Hancock, and Camp Pickett, VA. From there he left for Operation Torch and the invasion of
North Africaas part of the 175th Engineer Battalion. Then he was part of the invasion of Sicilyand then moved into . During this time, Lt. Luerich learned that his younger brother, Air Cadet Wallace H. Luerich, had been killed in a training accident at Italy Mariana Field, FL.
Shortly afterwards, Lt. Luerich transferred into the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion. His unit was transferred from the
Cassinofront to the beachhead at . The 5th Army launched their offensive ion 11 May which resulted in broke through the lines around Cassino and connected with the troops at Anzio in January 1944 Anzio. The 1st Armored Division re-organized into combat commands which were smaller and more mobile. Each combat command included tank units, motorized infantry and engineers.
The Allied troops advanced rapidly and were within sight of the city of Rome. On June 4, a reconnaissance called for a temporary Bailey bridge to replace a blown bridge that was holding up the armored column. Lt. Luerich was part of the engineer unit that was sent to build the bridge. The bridge was almost completed except one final pin, enabling the bridge to fall into its proper position, failed to release. Lt Luerich exposed himself to enemy sniper fire by crawling out on the bridge and releasing the pin. The bridge immediately fell into its proper position and the combat command proceeded toward the objective. For these actions, he was awarded the Silver Star.
Later in the day, Lt Luerich was killed in a fire fight with an enemy strongpoint overlooking a road down which our armor had to pass. He and his men were clearing mines when they encountered the Germans and the fight ensued. He was wounded by shell fragments and died at an aid station. His last known words were for his men, “I hope you boys make it.”His Silver Star Medal citation reads in part “The courage and devotion to duty displayed by Lt Luerich reflects the highest traditions of the armed forces,” but more than that, his courage reflected his character. He could have sought less dangerous duty upon the death of his brother as the surviving son, but it was not in this man to shirk his duty to his men or his country. He was twenty-seven years old.
Silver Star Medal Commendation for
Lieutenant Roland Luerich
For gallantry in action on 4 June 1944 in the vicinity of ****.
When reconnaissance indicated the necessity for constructing a
bridge overa an obstacle before the advance on enemy objectives could proceed, Lieutenant Luerich went forward with such a bridge. It was found that the bridge could not be put into its proper position. The pin, enabling it to do so, failed to release itself. Realizing the importance of opening the bridge, for i mmediate use by armored vehicles, Lieutenant Luerich courageously exposed himself to direct enemy sniper fire by crawling out on the bridge and releaseing the pin himself. The bridge immediately fell into its proper position and the combat command of which Lieutenant Luerich was a member proceded toward its objective. Later in the day. Lieutenant Luerich was killed in a fire fight with an enemy strong point overlooking a road down which our own armor had to pass. The courage, and devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Luerich reflects the highest traditions of the armed forces and deserves a full measure of praise."
Drive into Rome - June 3-4, 1944Colonel Cole's 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, on 3 June got orders to move during the afternoon to the vicinity of Cecchina, southwest of Albano, to secure an assembly area. It fought its way along the western side of the Albano road against resistance from German tanks and artillery. Company G claimed two tanks destroyed and a third wrecked by its own crew, while taking 17 German prisoners. When the engineers had put in a by-pass around a blown bridge, the other units of the battalion crossed to reinforce Company G and secure the area before dar.
Excerpts from "The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division", published 1954, describe the events of June 3-4.
The movement by the main body of the Division from the Albano road to Rome can be quickly told. After a series of orders and counter-orders during the evening before, the plans jelled around midnight, 3-4 June. The two combat commands and Division Reconnaissance began moving before daylight. Colonel Daniel sent part of Combat Command A under Major William Tuck, supported by Lt-Col. W. J. Ledwards's 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, against Albano. They cleared out the enemy during the morning. When Colonel Ledward drove up, he was killed, and three others were wounded, by a mine near Albano.
Tucks' flying column moved northwest along Highway No. 7, followed by the bulk of Combat Command A. The enemy delayed the advance by mines and demolitions along the route, and stationed a force with antitank guns which held up Combat Command A at Frattochie and at the Ciampino airfiield for several hours. By evening, Colonel Daniel's command reached the city and sent parties through the strange and crowded streest toward the vital bridges.
Lt. Roland Luerich, Jr. was originally buried at the cemetery at Nettuno. He returned to his home country in 1948 for his final resting place. Roland was remembered by his family as being one who was warm, funny, strong and extremely courageous. The Luerich family lost both of their sons, Roland and Wallace.
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Go to The 1st Armored Division for more detail history of the 1st Armored Division in the Italian Campaign.
This 64-page booklet is a brief history given to soldiers at the end of the war.
"The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division" is a history written by George Howe.
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