Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, February 04, 1945


“Iron Man Battalion” of 133rd Infantry Regiment,
34th Division, Probably Fightingest Outfit in World War II

Has Spent 350 Days in Front Lines of Tunisia, Italy.
Left to Right: Max Shepherd, Waterloo; Ralph Loy, Waterloo; Stanley Setka, Riceville;
Jerry Snoble, Hazelton; and Raymond Sonksen, Grundy Center.
Pictures by Yank Magazine Photographer Sgt. Steve Derry.

“Few, if any, infantrymen in any theater of operations have seen more combat than the men of the First battalion, 133rd infantry in the veteran 34th (Red Bull) division,” was the statement made in the current issue of Yank, army weekly newspaper, by Sgt. Joe McCarthy, staff correspondent.

“Iron-Man Battalion,” is the title given to this group of fighting men, including many from northeast Iowa, now with the Fifth army in Italy.

Of the original 34th division, there were 300 men from Waterloo and Cedar Falls in companies B and D, national guard. Only two Waterloo men, and one each from Riceville, Hazelton and Grundy Center, remain with the original national guard battalion.

Staff Sgt. Max Shepherd is formerly of 427 Kingsley avenue. His father, Maj. Loyd M. Shepherd, used to be battalion commander, but is now training officer at Camp Wheeler, Ga. The sergeant’s paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Shepherd, reside at 1329 Avalon avenue.

Pvt. Ralph Loy, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Loy, 325 Independence avenue, is described in the Yank article as “a character who has one more of those important combat stars on his theater ribbon than anybody else in the battalion.”

Loy was transferred to the Third division at Tunisia, went through the Sicilian campaign and then managed to get back to his old Iowa battalion when it was leaving Italy. “The adjutant fixed me up,” he says. “He and I were old friends. He court-martialed me once in Ireland.”

Tech. Fifth Grade Raymond E. Sonksen is the only one left of 22 men from Grundy Center, who were in Camp Claiborne, together. Staff Sgt. Stanley Setka, Riceville, is an anti-tank squad leader and Staff Sgt. Jerry Snoble, Hazelton, supply sergeant, was serving in a rifle platoon until he was wounded in Tunisia.

“When figured out, the battalion has had about 16 weeks rest in the last 15 months,” the soldier-author commented after reviewing the fighting at Hill 609 in Tunisia; Salerno; the bloody crossing of the Volturno; the taking of Ashcan Hill at san Mario de Oliveto; the attempts to cross the Rapido; the landing at Anzio; tough battles at Tarquinia, San Vincenzo, Cecina, Mount Maggiore, and the Gothic line at Florence.

Adding the Italian stretch of combat to the time on the Tunisian front, it totals up to somewhere around 350 days of line service, with the group earning 76 Bronze Stars, 64 Silver Stars, nine Legions of Merit, 17 Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor.

“The 34th division was an Iowa-Minnesota-Dakota national guard outfit when it went into active duty at Camp Claiborne, La.,” MaCarthy said, reviewing its stateside history. “The Dakota regiment, the 164th division, was sent to the Pacific leaving the 34th almost exclusively a division of soldiers from Iowa and Minnesota.

“It was still an Iowa outfit in Ireland, north Africa and Italy until it moved into the Cassino sector, then it began to change,” the correspondent wrote. “The familiar Iowa faces of the original national guardsmen and early draftees started to disappear.

“A lot of them were killed; others, with what the boys enviously called ‘million-dollar wounds,’ did not come back from the hospital (were returned home). When the battalion embarked for Anzio, it was almost a new outfit. And later when it pushed north from Rome, most of the remaining old men went home to Iowa on rotation of TD (temporary duty).

McCarthy continued, “The few GIs left now who have been with the battalion since the beginning are mostly clerks, cooks, truck drivers and cannon company men – the soldiers in the infantry get the low priority on rotation because, compared with the riflemen and machine gunners, they have a somewhat lower priority on death.

“But most of the cooks, truck drivers and cannon company men in this battalion have Purple Hearts as when it gets rough they work up forward as litter bearers.”

Despite the ample German supplies and men and the difficult terrain on the Fifth army front, McCarthy gathered that the GIs in the battalion think “The Allies could have been more successful here if they had been able to attack the Gothic line in greater depth. After making a break through there is never enough fresh troops behind to really make something out of the gain, so after we stop there’s nobody to follow up and keep pushing.”

The men are getting much better food now than they had earlier in the Italian campaign and in Tunisia, McCarthy reported. One GI was quoted as saying, “We’re getting fresh meat and bread more often. Back in Tunisia we used to go without bread for weeks, and when we did get it we used to eat it for dessert, like cake.”

“The Coleman stove, the jeep and the Bailey Bridge,” Shepherd offered, “are winning the war. Guys with Colemans would rather move up without helmets than leave their stoves behind. We carry them in Jerry gas-mask containers. They don’t make much light, either, once they get started. A hot breakfast in the morning makes all the difference in the world.”

The Yank reporter told of the men’s dislike for the combat shoe which doesn’t shed water, and the sleeping bag from which it is impossible to get out of in a hurry. He told, too, of their enthusiasm for the issue woolen sweater, and the winter combat jacket with the zipper front and high woolen collar and cuffs.

“They won’t always admit it, but you can tell from talking to them,” McCarthy observed, “that the men in the battalion get a deep satisfaction from knowing their job is the toughest one in the army, They know that, if they come through the war safely, their own part in it will be something they will be able to look back on with pride for the rest of their lives.

“They know that it will be a good feeling to say at a gathering of veterans years from now, ‘I was with the 34th division in Tunisia and Italy – First battalion of the One-Three-Three.”

An attitude of resignation toward the fate that put these men in the infantry, in the snow of the Apennine mountains, instead of some softer branch of service, was noted by McCarthy. “They are accepting it,” he went on to explain, “trying to make the best of it and trying to tell themselves it could have been worse.”

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, February 04, 1945, Page 10