Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, March 16, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Private Louis Ziegra, Yankee Division, AEF

"One of the Bravest Men They Had Ever Seen"

Private Louis Ziegra After the War

By Terrence Finnegan
Excerpted From:  A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches

Private Louis Ziegra of the 26th Division, 102nd Infantry, battled single-handedly an entire 30-man German patrol on 15 April 1918. Here's an account of the action—

At the regimental line dividing the 101st Infantry and 102nd Infantry, two men dressed in American uniforms speaking perfect English arrived at a 102nd Infantry’s company PC at Marvoisin  purporting to be on a liaison mission from the 101st Infantry requiring sketches of the adjoining sector and the latest password. The officer at the PC declined to accede to the request, but his suspicions were not sufficiently aroused to hold the men. The men departed, passed a company runner, and proceeded north in the direction of the German lines. Something was in the works for that sector.

Later that night, a 30-man Zug (platoon) from  7 Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment 258 (7/258), under command of Leutnant Frederich, conducted a patrol one kilometer into American lines near Xivray on the regimental sector line separating 102nd Infantry to the east and 101st Infantry to the west. Frederich’s Zug also included several Husaren [cavalrymen] that had just been sent to the front as infantry. 7/258 intercepted the Company H rations and mail wagon heading towards Marvoisin. After passing Xivray, the wagon was moving eastward, passing over a stone bridge across the Rupt de Mad. It was a still night with the wagon making the only noise. 

The Action Described Took Place Along the Blue Track

Three men were on the wagon, the driver, the acting company mess-sergeant (actually private) Louis “Louie” R. Ziegra, and a rifleman serving as the guide sitting inside the wagon. They were heading to the front lines to Company H. Private Harry Marvin was looking forward to seeing his best friend Louie as well as receiving rations and mail. As the wagon approached the bridge bullets flew killing both mules. Private Ziegra fired back, killing one of the Husaren with a shot to the head. Stosstruppen jumped on the wagon and grabbed the driver. The driver was hit over the head with a rifle and fell backward into the wagon. The guide in the back took a bullet to the wrist and fell to the floor. Both proceeded to play dead. Then the fight began. Private Ziegra was shot at close range with a Becker-Hollander small-calibre pistol. The bullet entered his chin, missed the jaw bone and exited near the right nostril. Despite the blood spurting from his head, Ziegra didn’t stop pummeling the German Stosstruppen that jumped him. Soon he was overpowered and taken away as a prisoner. Vizefeldwebel Ettighoffer remembered the American violently lashing out with his fists, flooring a German with each blow. Several assailants had bloody noses, a few broken teeth, and black eyes. With the struggle over, the Germans robbed the wagon of mail and rations, and proceeded back to their lines with Private Ziegra. 

Private Marvin: “They had to fight to carry him off and had there been four or five instead of 20 or 30 they never in this world would have taken him.” At the opportune moment both driver and guide sprang up and ran north into the Company H kitchen area where they described the fracas. A patrol quickly went out looking for Louie but found instead rubber waders, a sack of second-class mail, tins of corned beef, and an American and German helmet at a break point through the barbed wire. Iron crosses from the scuffle were awarded to nine Stosstruppen. Gefreiter Stollenwerk was promoted to Unteroffizier and the rest of the raiding party were given leave.

Ziegra's Fellow Soldiers of the 102nd Infantry
Five Days Later They Would Be Targeted in the Famous Raid on Seicheprey

Private Louie Ziegra became a legend among the Germans. He was a 25-year-old second-generation German-American whose father, Richard, bitterly opposed the German militarism of the time. Lieutenant Joseph P. Burke, an American officer captured that Saturday at Seicheprey, reported after returning from Germany in late 1918 that a German officer commented on Private Ziegra, stating that he was considered one of the bravest men they had ever seen. It was said that he had killed or knocked unconscious several of his captors while fighting with bare hands. It became necessary to knock him out with a rifle butt and carry him back to German lines. Not only did Ettighoffer write about the incident, but General der Artillerie von Gallwitz also mentioned Ziegra’s fighting spirit in his postwar memoirs: “An American of the 26th Division, captured at the southern front by Xivray had defended himself mightily and refused all testimony.”

Private Ziegra’s capture made the western village of Marvoisin off limits to all vehicles bringing rations supply. Two weeks later orders were generated stating that Marvoisin was to be abandoned during the evening hours. A stand-to position was established across the Rupt de Mad and along the “Q” trench. 

In his lifetime, Private Ziegra never received recognition for his valor that night. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds in the action. 

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