Hamilton County

Pvt. Edwin James Lemke




Pvt. Lemke Is Honored with DSC

Pvt. Edwin Lemke, son of Mrs. Bessie Lemke of this city, has been decorated with the distinguished service cross for outstanding achievement during the successful allied efforts to break the Gothic line in Italy.

As Associated Press dispatch, received Friday by the Freeman-Journal reported that Private Lemke was one of two Iowans honored Friday by Fifth army officials for heroic action in Italy. The other Iowan was T-5 Harold C. Banwart of Algona who received the Legion of Merit.

Private Lemke is a member of the famed 34th infantry, and left Webster City with the Iowa National Guard in 1941. After receiving initial training at Camp Claiborne, La., the ING forces were sent overseas to Ireland early in 1942 as part of the first contingent of American fighting men to be conveyed overseas.

The Webster City soldier is serving an an automatic rifleman with the 34th of “Red Bull” unit, and his decoration is one of the highest awards given members of the U. S. fighting forces.

The 133rd infantry regiment of which the 34th division is a part is one of the most decorated outfits in World War II. Up to last September, however, only 19 men had been honored with the DSC although hundreds had qualified for purple heart medals, silver crosses and other medals given for wounds received in action or for bravery and outstanding achievement.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – November 17, 1944

W. C. Soldier a One-Man Army in Battle of Italy

— A one-man campaign that started on the Anzio beachhead has made Pvt. Edwin J. Lemke, 23, Webster City, Iowa, a hero to his company mates. They swear that with carbine and pistol he has killed hundreds of Germans.

Lemke, who received his first rifle when he was 12 years old and grew up with a passion for hunting and stalking game, explains simply:

“Now I’m hunting Germans."

For one of his exploits, Lemke received the distinguished service cross. His officers are seeking documentary proof of others in hope that he also will receive full credit for them.

Relieved Trapped Squad

When he was decorated the lanky Iowan officially was credited with having single-handedly relieved a squad cut off from the main American force last June 28, near Castognete, Italy.

Lemke asked to be sent alone on the mission when the company commander was preparing to send out a patrol. Armed with a light carbine, Lemke pushed along a dry river bed and through thickets. He spotted a German armed with a machine pistol and killed him. He continued forward, armed now with the Nazi’s machine pistol.

The official citation completes the story: “Continuing his advance he observed another German and shot him with the machine pistol and skillfully maneuvering toward the beleaguered squad, he located and killed three more enemy soldiers to clear all enemy resistance from the rear and right rear of the squad. Finally reaching the three remaining members of the squad, he led them safely to the company.”

Lemke is an expert with all types of small arms. He studies intelligence reports on all enemy weapons and so far has managed to capture samples of new types almost as soon as they are reported.

A Favorite Stunt

One of his favorite stunts is to creep behind the enemy’s lines and cut their communication lines, then shoot the linemen when they come out to repair the break. He also studies the terrain during the day to find which paths the enemy is using. Then after dark, Lemke takes up a concealed position and waits for someone to come along to shoot.

This is Lemke’s story about how he once invaded a German headquarters:

“I just stumbled on it. It was a deep dugout with wheat growing over the reinforced roof. I killed the Sentry at the opening, waited a while and then went in. There was a colonel studying some maps and papers. I shot him and the two men there with him. Naw, they didn’t have time to shoot back. I just shot them and left.”

There are dozens of such stories in the Lemke legend. He either declines to comment on them or dismisses them with a shrug.

Buddies Do Talking

But his buddies in the 133rd regiment, 34th division, talk to him.

“Actually you’ll need an adding machine to tally his score,” said Pvt. Andrew J. Schwartz, New York, N.Y.

“If we only had about a hundred guys like Lemke we could end this war in a month,” said Pvt. Edward Kaskewicz, Brewster, Mass.

Asked if he had any special hatred for the Germans, Lemke answered, “I just think of them as Germans.”

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – November 25, 1944

Pvt. Lemke Just ‘Ain’t Talking’ About His Exploits

(The following article from a late November issue of The Stars and Stripes, army newspaper, was sent home from Italy by Lt. Richard Harvey of this city, an air corps pilot in the Italian war theater where Pvt. Edwin Lemke, a 34th infantryman from Webster City, is fast becoming a legend to his Fifth army comrades. Lemke, one of the few Iowans to be decorated with the distinguished service cross, was recently featured in an Associated Press story from Fifth army headquarters. In the following story, written by Sgt. Bob Fleisher, Stars and Stripes staff writer, additional exploits by the Webster City soldier are related. Excerpts from the sergeant’s article follow:)

WITH THE FIFTH ARMY, Nov. 27—You can’t tell about Lemke. You can listen to the fabulous tales of his exploits that his comrades tell and you can read the citation that accompanied the DSC he received for a little job last June when he rescued a trapped squad by crawling through a drainage ditch, wiping out a five-man enemy patrol and leading the squad to safety. But you’ll walk away with the feeling the Lemke is a riddle that may never be solved.

Talking to Pvt. Edwin Lemke of Webster City, Iowa, doesn’t settle the matter either. He’ll talk about hunting back in Iowa, how he has always wanted to fly or why he prefers the carbine to the M-1, about his one-man forays into the enemy lines at night—the guy just ain’t sayin’.

Not even the GI’s in his company know for sure how many Germans Lemke has killed. All they know is that two or three times a week since the Anzio beachhead, Lemke spent the day sizing up the sector in front of his company. He studied the roads and trails through his glasses, likely German dugout sites and troop concentrations plus the best routes of approach. Then, after dark, he took his favorite weapons, the German Luger and GI carbine, all the ammunition he could carry and disappeared. It’s OK with his CO—Lemke has been given a free hand.

Reports Next Morning

Then the next morning it’s “I got three in a dugout, or four in that house down the road,” but no more.

Lemke is a legend in his company. Most doughboys, no matter how courageous have their belly-full of fighting just doing what they are supposed to do. A guy who goes out by himself to hunt Germans when the rest of the men are sleeping or taking a break in their foxholes is a guy not easy to understand.

At first when Lemke wouldn’t talk about what he did on those lone expeditions except mention the fact that he killed three here or six there, the guys figured that maybe they had a screwball on their hands. But when the company advanced and the men saw German bodies in the exact places described to them, they were sold.

Cunning and patience learned while stalking game in the Iowa woods stand him in good stead now. These are the traits that enable him to cut an enemy communication line and hide in the bushes until somebody comes along to fix the real—but now it’s a Luger instead of a .22 and Nazi soldiers instead of Iowa wildlife. And those lessons in patience made it possible for him to lie in waiting outside a German tent for more than two hours until the officer and four aides, laden with maps and other papers, walked inside. Then the Luger again and a good haul of valuable documents to boot.

A Favorite Story

One of the favorite Lemke stories is about how, one day while he was on patrol, he sneaked up on a Kraut dugout, counted seven unsuspecting SS men, dropped in a hand grenade and said. “Here boys, split this up among yourselves.”

They all consider his greatest single exploit the breaking up on an enemy tank attack near Cecina before it materialized. Lemke hid himself on the edge of town, spotted a concentration of Tiger tanks and opened up on the area with his sniper’s rifle. He picked off so many tankmen, so the story goes, that the others fled and the attack never came off.

The company has learned to lean on Lemke. Maybe they don’t understand him very well. It’s a funny thing—this driving hatred of the Nazis and their crimes against humanity. It doesn’t seem to fit in with the quiet type of country boy many of them have known all their lives. But Lemke has taught them about fighting and his wonderful exploits have captured their imaginations. He’s their man.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – December 14, 1944 (photo included)

Edwin J. Lemke, 70, Webster City, died Saturday morning, Sept. 23, at his home. He had been in failing health for two years. Funeral services will be held Tuesday, Sept. 26, 15 1:30 p.m. at the Foster Funeral Home, Rev. Raymond Roden officiating. Burial will be in the Graceland Cemetery. Graveside military services will be conducted by American Legion Post 191.

Edwin J. Lemke, son of Fred and Bessie Cook Lemke, was born March 4, 1900, in Chicago, Ill. At the age of five, he moved to Webster City with his family. He graduated from Webster City High School in 1938. He served with Co. E, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Division in the European Theater from Feb. 1941 to June 1945. He won the Distinguished Service Cross, the Italian Medal of Valor, the Bronze Star Medal of Valor, and five Bronze Campaign Stars. He was employed at Nissen’s for several years, and was later employed at Hahne Printing until it closed.

Mr. Lemke was preceded in death by his parents.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – September 25, 1989

Edwin Lemke, at right, a Webster City World War II hero, was honored at a special ceremony held at the city July 4 Celebration in 1988, when former Captain Don Andrew pinned on Lemke two of the medals he had been awarded in combat – The Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star.

Lemke led quiet life, except on battlefield

By Michael Bares

It was a short obituary yesterday, the name Edwin J. Lemke in boldface type above three paragraphs.

He died at home, alone. His death was noted when he didn’t pick up his Meals on Wheels dinner. It was a strange way to die for a man whose wartime exploits seem more fiction than fact.

Homer Ankrum, childhood friend and member of Lemke’s same Fifth U.S. Army, remembers a man who routinely infiltrated enemy lines during the Italian campaign of World War II.

Once, 12 miles behind the lines near Bologna, he reconnoitered enemy positions disguised in Italian peasant clothes. He even stopped at a restaurant and, acting as if mute, ordered dinner and ate surrounded by German soldiers.

He would cut enemy communication wires and wait for repairmen to come, killing them.

HE LEARNED to shoot while hunting along the Boone River valley, gathering food for his family during the depression. After he graduated from Webster City High School in 1938 he joined the 133 Infantry Regiment of the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division.

In his book on the history of the Italian and North African campaigns, “Dogfaces Who Smiled Through Tears,” Ankrum writes of Lemke destroying enemy machine gun nests, crawling over exposed ground.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award, the Italian Medal of Honor and a Bronze Star. Efforts are also underway by Ankrum and Webster City native and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Clark Mollenhoff to have the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Lemke.

Posing for a photograph in 1988 wearing a hunting outfit and carrying a shotgun, Ankrum said Lemke was uncomfortable. “With a shy smile he meekly said, ‘I can no longer bring myself to kill animals. I could only hunt game when my family needed food for the table.’”

Lemke lived a quiet, almost reclusive life in later years. It took the efforts of several of his old high school and wartime friends to convince him to appear at a ceremony in his honor held at the Webster City Fourth of July observance in 1988.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – September 26, 1989 (photo included)

On a hero’s passing

By Max Maxon

Edwin J. Lemke slipped away from us this week, quietly—almost like the way he would slip through enemy lines during the Italian campaign of World War II as a distinguished member of Co. E.

While I was just beginning to catch onto the journalistic way of life at the Freeman-Journal, the paper received many items about men and women of Hamilton County who had gone into service in the early years of the war. Many items were about promotions or new assignments. Some were about three or four brothers who had entered Army, the Navy or the Marines.

The war news was a big attraction in those days and the nation was eagerly awaiting news on how the conflict was going overseas—first against Germany and Italy and then against Japan.

While watching Associated Press teletype news come in day after day, we kept our eyes open for local servicemen and women, and we were tickled pink one day to receive a news item written by one of the leading war correspondents of the day.

Sending back articles from deep inside Italy as the allied forces slowly fought their way northward, the writer told about some of Lemke’s daring exploits. It was then that he dubbed the Webster City veteran, “the sergeant York of World War II,” comparing him to the real Sgt. York who was one of the most celebrated heroes of the first World War. A fine movie was made about York, starring famed movie star, Gary Cooper.

AS HAS BEEN told in several news accounts, Lemke received the Distinguished Service Cross from Gen. Mark Clark Nov. 14, 1944, for rescuing, single-handedly, an American squad that had been cut off from the main forces near Castognete, Italy. He shot five German soldier to clear out enemy resistance to the rear of the squad. He then led the three surviving Americans back to safety.

Homer Ankrum’s fine book, “Dogfaces Who Smiled Through Tears,” related many more daring achievements that Lemke made before he returned to the States in June, 1945.

I well remember when Lemke came back to Webster City and was an invited guest of the Kiwanis Club which at that time was meeting in the basement of the Hotel Willson.

He was extremely bashful and very reluctant to talk about his war record, but did allow some of us to quiz him about some of his feats. Some of his answers sent chills up and down my spine, but the soldier gave them matter of factly as if shooting enemy servicemen was not much different than shooting squirrels or pheasants along the Boone River where he had learned his hunting and stalking techniques.

He did state that of all the types of weapons he had used, he preferred the German Luger pistol, and he had captured many kinds of enemy weapons including machine guns and carbines.

I used to admire his long, almost loping style of walking along main street, the few times I happened to see him. He could go twice as far in a single step as I could, and he did it so noiselessly that one could see why he could move through the war areas so quickly and easily, earning his nickname, “The Phantom.”

Maybe some day they could make a movie about him and his unmatched spot in World War II. Something like “The Phantom of the Operations.”

Lemke’s exploits were featured in the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper editions which were circulated wherever American service personnel were located.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – September 28, 1989

"Phantom of 5th Army"

Edwin James Lemke was born Mar. 4, 1919 to Fredrick L. and Anna L. Cook Lemke. He died Sept. 22, 1989 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Webster City, IA. (Iowa Gravestone Project Photo)

Private Lemke served with the U.S. Army in World War II with Co. E, 133rd Infantry, 34th “Red Bull” Division. Lemke (aka “Sergeant York of the Fifth Army”) was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Italian Medal of Valor, Bronze Star Medal of Valor and five Bronze Campaign Stars.

Source: ancestry.com