Leslie A. Holtzapfel
Service Number: 32751123
Unit: 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), 2nd Battalion, Company “G”
|3119 East Ironsides Road|
Tragedy would strike the Holtzapfel Family once again on February 6, 1931. Roland W. Taylor of Camden was driving his vehicle along Kendall Boulevard in Oaklyn while intoxicated with two passengers; Ms. Alice Little of Camden and Ethel Holtzapfel. At 5:30pm, Taylor entered the intersection at Black Horse Pike when his vehicle sideswiped another car traveling southbound on the pike. The collision left Taylor with a cut above his eye and the back of his head. Alice sustained a broken jaw, some cuts on her left ear and loosened her front teeth. Ethel received the brunt of trauma as the impact threw her against the interior of the vehicle, fracturing her skull. A good samaritan stopped his car at the scene of the accident, loaded up all of the injured and transported them to West Jersey Homeopathic Hospital in Camden. Unfortunately, nothing could be done to revive Ethel, she was pronounced dead on arrival. At the age of nine, Leslie and his siblings were left without a mother.
|13 Davis Avenue|
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, young men from all over the country poured into recruitment offices to enlist in every branch of the armed services. The sons of Mount Ephraim were no different. Bud enlisted in the Army on February 24, 1942. He would be stationed at Camp Tyson in Tennessee for training. Around this time, the Holtzapfels packed up their belongings and changed addresses once again. Albert chose to stay in Mount Ephraim, purchasing a house located across the Black Horse Pike, near Audubon Lake at 13 Valley Road.
Leslie got a job working with his sister Edith and a fellow Mount Ephraim resident, Cornelius Sinon (also later killed during WWII) at the Radio Condenser Company on Sheridan Street in Camden, NJ. They provided radio frequency tuning component parts and sub-assemblies to most of the radio manufacturers as well as the military. This company is still in business at the same location (Copewood and Thorn Streets) now called “RF Products."
|13 Valley Road|
Holtzapfel reported to the 1229th Reception Center at Fort Dix, NJ on February 22nd for orientation. During the first day, Leslie was issued his uniform, shoes (size 9 1/2 C) and other necessary gear. He was then assigned to a training company and a barrack to bunk in. Day two, he and the rest of the recruits would be up bright and early at 5:45am for reveille formation. Afterwards they would return to clean up the barracks, shower, shave and report to the mess hall for breakfast at 7am. By 7:30, they were called to detail and each man underwent a physical examination. Here were some of Leslie’s basic attributes at the time: Height: 68 1/2”, Weight: 129 lbs., Eyes: Blue, Hair: Brown.
Following the exam, the men returned to the mess hall for lunch. The afternoon was spent marching and formation drills. By 3:30pm, the Company was dismissed and returned to the barracks to organize their belongings. After the daily flag retreat ceremony, the men would go to the “chow hall” for dinner. Unfortunate souls would catch the much dreaded “KP” (kitchen patrol) duty. From 7 to 11pm, recruits were free to unwind. The routine for the third day was much like the previous day. Up at the crack of dawn, and fall into formation. Getting ready for the Army life. After breakfast, the recruits took an IQ test and an interview to determine what job classification each man would be assigned to. They would also sign up for the G.I. life insurance policy which provided $10,000 to a soldier’s beneficiary if the applicant was killed in action. On day four, Leslie found out that he and fellow Mount Ephraim recruit Jerry Giordano, who had also reported to Fort Dix with Holtzapfel, had orders to report to Camp Swift in Texas for basic training.
|97th Infantry Division Patch|
The 303rd Field Artillery Battalion utilized the M2A1 105mm Howitzer. It required a crew of eight to operate, could fire up to ten rounds per minute and had a range of 12,300 yards. Soldiers appreciated it’s accuracy and powerful punch. The howitzer was flexible enough to provide indirect as well as direct fire upon it’s target. Battalion crews trained on all facets of transporting, setting-up/breaking down, loading, ranging and firing the weapon at the artillery range at Camp Swift. They later took their Army Ground Forces firing test at Camp Bowie, Texas.
|M2A1 105mm Howitzer|
Following the Louisiana Maneuver period, the Division was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where it continued with unit training. While stationed here in February, Leslie was fighting off a nasty cold that he contracted from being out in the harsh winter elements for such a long period of time. His ailment had progressively gotten worse and was admitted to the camp hospital where he spent three days recuperating.
In late April 1944, approximately 5,000 soldiers were "stripped" from the Division while at Fort Leonard Wood. There was a great need for a build-up of troops overseas. The 97th Infantry Division was said to be one of the best trained divisions in the Army at the time. This group was most desirable for replacement depots because the soldiers had been training for over a year. Usually, the men transferred into these depots had been sent from an infantry replacement training center, which gave most recruits only a couple of months of initial training.
Leslie and Jerry were two of these soldiers who were pulled from the 97th Division and sent to the Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot #1 at Fort Meade in Maryland. The group was formed into a regiment and assigned to individual companies. They were then sent to staging grounds at Camp Patrick Henry in Newport News, Virginia. Here they would await the arrival of a transport ship to take them overseas. Although the two boys from Mount Ephraim had no idea of their next destination, Leslie and Jerry’s similar military paths up to this point would split here in Virginia. Giordano and over half of the 5000 men from the 97th Division were destined for the European Theater of Operations. Holtzapfel and 2,218 other soldiers from the 97th would be heading to the other side of the world. It would be the last time either man would step foot on American soil.
|USS General H.W. Butner|
The next day, the ship moved on to Durban, South Africa, where they joined up with another troop ship and a British escort ship. The journey up to that point had been rather pleasant and calm. However, once the ship entered the Indian Ocean, the seas became extremely rough. The convoy stuck close to the shore, however, the conditions did not improve. The next stop was only a brief one. They sailed up the eastern coast of Africa to the British Colony of Mombasa, Kenya before continuing to India. Finally, after a month at sea, the USS General Butner arrived in Bombay (Mumbai), India on on May 25th.
The soldiers disembarked from the ship and loaded onto railroad "cattle cars." They spent the next 4 days traveling northeast through India to a British military training camp in Ramgarh. The group arrived at the camp in the late morning of May 29th. While this was a facility to train soldiers, the group did not participate in any real training. The enlisted men were not told what was going on or where hey would be heading. They were organized into a battalion, issued weapons and ammunition, and otherwise spent most of the day trying to escape the sweltering heat. To pass the time, the soldiers played cards, wrote letters home to family and perhaps imbibed in a beer here and there.
Once airborne, the soldiers were finally told where they were going. They were heading to Burma to reinforce the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), code name: "Galahad.” These men were more commonly referred to as “Merrill’s Marauders.” The Marauders were an all-volunteer force of 3000 soldiers lead by Brigadier General Frank Merrill, whose mission was to infiltrate deep into the Japanese lines in the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar) to disrupt and destroy their supply & communication lines and reopen the blockaded Burma Road.
The Marauders' next mission was to retake the area of Myitkyina (pronounced, Mitch-in-uh), meaning “near the big river” in Burmese. The town of Myitkyina is situated along the western bank of the Irrawaddy River and was strategically important to Allied forces because of it’s various transit links to the rest of the country. Of particular importance was reopening the Ledo Road, an important supply road and capturing an airfield which was being utilized by Japanese fighter planes to intercept Allied cargo planes flying between India and China, over "The Hump." By the time the Marauders had reached the outskirts of Myitkyina in May, it was the middle of the monsoon season and nearly all the soldiers were suffering from a combination of severe exhaustion, malnutrition, and a host of tropical diseases. They were in dire need of relief from fresh troops which unfortunately weren't readily available to deploy. Some soldiers were actually falling asleep during intense fighting.
|Merrill's Marauders Patch|
Two days after their arrival, they were on their way two miles northeast to Mankrin, which they occupied. The river road leading from the north into Mankrin and then Myitkyina was now blocked. Still informed Colonel Charles Hunter that he was in position but that if he moved out on the road to pass through a narrow area--with the river on the east and the flooded low ground on the right--he had reason to believe the troops would not follow.
Colonel Hunter ordered him to have his men set up a strong defensive line on either side of the road. From here they could prevent Japanese from leaving or entering the town. Patrol activity could be carried out, as well as a carefully planned and well-executed offensive. All the while, they could hope for a Japanese banzai attack in order to annihilate as many as possible. New Galahad advanced slowly day by day as they worked to knock out strong points. Each day, when the number of wounded sent to the aid stations and the surgical team reached twenty, the day’s activity had to be discontinued.
By June 10, 1944, the 209th and 236th Engineer Combat Battalions were entrenched one mile south of Radahpur across and on either side of the Radahpur- Myitkyina Road. Their blocking line ran about one and a half miles to the west, where the Chinese blocked all western and southern entrances to the city. The Second Battalion of New Galahad defended a line running from the eastern edge of the engineer’s sector northeastward through the town of Mankrin to the Irrawaddy River. The engineers were about two miles from the town, the Second Battalion of Galahad about three miles, and the Chinese forces about two thousand yards. The Siege of Myitkyina began for these replacements troops.
|75mm Pack Howitzer in Myitkyina|
By June 17th, the Second Battalion of Galahad controlled the Maingna Ferry Road and a clear passage to the Irrawaddy River. They were one mile closer to the town than they had been on the 13th. The engineers and the rest of Galahad now also controlled the Myitkyina-Mogaung-Sumprabum road junction. Progress was slow along the Amercians’ front during the rest of June, but small gains were made during most days. Casualties continued to mount--both from battle and disease.
On June 28, 1944, Private Holtzapfel was reported missing from his company. In an article from the Courier Post, Albert Sr. stated that he had last received a letter from his son some time in August 1944. The Allies finally took control of Myitkyina on August 3, 1944. Five days later, the 5307th consolidated with the 475th Infantry Regiment. This unit would later become what is now the 75th Ranger Regiment. Leslie was still nowhere to be found and was officially listed as "missing in action" on September 8, 1944. Two months later, Leslie’s younger brother Jack enlisted in the Army. He served with the 27th Infantry Division, 105th Infantry Regiment, Company E, where he saw action on the island of Okinawa and was later sent to Japan as part of the occupying force after the surrender.
|Harry Norton (L)|
Howard Auld (R)
Auld, 25, was a 200 pound, six foot-two inch tall paratrooper who had been recently medically discharged from the service. He attended a party celebrating V-J Day on the evening of August 14th at the Bellmawr Firehouse with a woman named Margaret “Rita” McDade. The two had left the party and walked down Black Horse Pike to Haddon Heights. Auld admitted to beating, and raping the 23 year old waitress from Philadelphia, then throwing her into a cistern at Maple Avenue and the pike. She died as a result of drowning.
Albert received a letter dated October 23, 1945 from a Lieutenant Louis Hardcastle stating that he had talked to Leslie a few months earlier in Calcutta, India. He said that Private Holtzapfel was “in native hands and still alive.” Mr. Holtzapfel contacted the Army about the letter and wanted to know more information about the whereabouts of his son. The Army had requested information from their Headquarters in the India-Burma Theater about the matter. On Christmas Eve 1945, a reply was received stating that the name of the soldier who talked to Private Holtzapfel’s father had not been received from their office and correspondence was being returned without further action. Records indicate that no further action were taken.
On March 16, 1946, Leslie was officially declared dead by the War Department under Section 5 of the Missing Persons Act. This states the following: Declared Dead --All persons previously reported as missing or missing in action, who were no longer presumed to be living, and in whose cases a finding of death was made by the Chief of the Casualty Branch, AGO, acting for the Secretary of War, pursuant to Section 5 of the "Missing Persons Act," Public Law 490, 77th Congress, 7 March 1942, as amended. Findings of death were made upon or subsequent to 12 months in a missing or missing in action status, and were withheld so long as the person was presumed to be living. They included the date upon which the death was presumed to have occurred for the purposes of termination of crediting pay and allowances, settlements of accounts, and payments of death gratuities. Such date was never less than a year and a day following the day of expiration of the 12 month period. The declared dead columns in this report include figures for those persons classified as declared dead from a missing in action status only. Persons declared dead from a missing status (other than missing in action) are included in the non-battle death statistics in the death tables, but are not separately identified.
A heartbroken Holtzapfel Family held a memorial service on March 31,1946 at the Advent Lutheran Church on East Kings Highway in Mount Ephraim. Just two weeks later, Albert Sr. suffered a heart attack and passed away while en route to the hospital. Leslie would be awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge and the Purple Heart posthumously. For their accomplishments in Burma, the Marauders were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation in July 1944. They also have the rare distinction of having each member of the unit receiving the Bronze Star.
A board of American Graves Registration Service officers convened at Calcutta, India on January 9, 1948. They wanted to review and determine if further searches were warranted in the case of missing and deceased personnel. In total, 15 cases — one of which being Leslie Holtzapfel — were 5307th/475th Infantry Regiment soldiers, who were killed during June-August 1944 while participating in the Battle for Myitkyina and the surrounding territory. As far as could be ascertained, the remains of the 15 men had not been recovered by AGRS headquarters. Search & Recovery teams made numerous recoveries from the Myitkyina battlefields and many of those were still unidentified and therefore buried as “Unknowns.”
During December 1947, Search & Recovery teams once again searched the Myitkyina battlefields and recovered more remains, some of these were also “Unknowns.” The opinion of the board was that further attempts for recovery of remains would prove unsuccessful. Unless some of the remains positively referred to the 15 men of the 5307th/475th, they would ultimately be considered non- recoverable remains. The recommendation was that no further attempts for recovery of subject decedents be made and that the remains be declared “non- recoverable.”
In a letter from AGRS India-Burma Zone dated January 20, 1948, stated it was possible that the remains of some of the personnel listed might have been buried as unknowns in the U.S. Military Cemeteries Kalaikunda and Barrackpore, India. All remains that were recovered and previously buried in that zone were sent to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard USAT Albert M. Boe in January 1948. It was recommended that paperwork regarding the missing men be forwarded to the Commanding Officer of AGRS in Honolulu, which would undoubtedly prove helpful during the identifying process.
On February 24,1950, there was a review by the Army concerning the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Private Leslie A. Holtzapfel. The Quartermaster General Office, Memorial Division reported that a "Non-Recoverable" recommendation from the field was being held, pending further information. They concluded that In the absence of any definite information as to the fate of Private Holtzapfel, and the chance possibility that he might be alive, it was concluded that the information of record in the Department of Army, at that time, did not warrant the issuance of an official report of death.
A “Non-recoverable" case record of review and approval was held on April 18, 1950. The Board of Findings indicated that Search and Recovery Teams had made numerous recoveries from the Myitkyina area and many of these are still unidentified and are buried as “Unknowns.” Due to this information, recommendation of non- recoverability for the deceased was nullified. As a result, OQMG (Office of Quartermaster General) Forms 371 of the deceased were sent to AGRS, Pacific Zone in order that further comparison between the unknowns recovered from Myitkyina and the deceased be made. These forms were compared with negative results, and therefore the original Board findings were re-instated.
A re-examination of records for “Non-recoverable" remains was conducted on May 15, 1951. There was a possible association. A comparison of the dental and physical characteristics of Private Holtzapfel with those of all unknowns recovered from the area of death. However, it failed to establish identity. According to military dental records, Holtzapfel had a full upper and lower plate (dentures), therefore could not be identified by this method.
Private Holtzapfel’s remains most likely lay with the rest of the Unknown soldiers buried at either the Schofield Barracks or the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Perhaps one day these grave will be exhumed like the Unknowns of Pearl Harbor have recently been done and can undergo advanced genetic testing so that Leslie’s remains can finally be positively identified. Only time will tell.
Not only is Leslie Holtzapfel’s name engraved on the memorial at the Veterans Triangle on Davis Avenue, in Mount Ephraim, but it is also inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in Taguig City, Philippines. He was survived by his brothers Bud and Jack, sisters Hazel Zane and Edith Holtzapfel.
|Leslie Holzapfels name on the Walls of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery|