Robert Cahows' Story
The eldest of 8 brothers from a farming community, Robert Cahow was originally drafted earlier in WW2. He'd been an MP, guarding POW's in America. He volunteered for frontline duty, as he wanted to serve his country in a more active manner. Being 6 foot 7 inches tall Robert stood out from his comrades in the 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division. Cahow and his comrades were soon drawn into the fighting for the Hürtgen forest. The Germans called it "Die Totenfabrik" or Death Factory, with good reason. On December 13th 1944 Company K was assigned to execute a diversionary assault on bunker 111 in the forest. Many of the soldiers in Company K were new to combat. Anti-personnel mines and enemy fire killed and wounded many.
The day was drawing to an end as several survivors of King Company were "volunteered" for the unenviable duty of re-entering the forest in search of wounded from the days assault on the bunker. One of the volunteers was Robert Cahow, the others were Heber Mizell and Wilbur Peddicord.
For our dramatic recreation of those long passed events I am indebted to the members of the Belgian Living History group "35thInfantryDivisionBelgium" for their assistance in helping to bring to life the events of December 13th 1944.
Harvey Jorgensen, the only man left alive to recount the events recalls;
"The three men, Cahow, Mizell and Peddicord reluctantly trudged into the area of Bunker 111. They were well aware of the dangers, the mines and booby traps, but theirs was a recovery mission. They walked on".
Robert Cahow was a BAR gunner, our volunteer above is wearing the same equipment as Robert was at the time. The only discrepancy being that Robert was also carrying an M8 knife in an M3 scabbard. (Eagle eyed visitors will notice that our man above is carrying an M6 leather scabbard). He had grenades for personal protection as well as his trusty Browning Automatic Rifle, which would be an advantage in laying down a base of fire should the need arise.
Above: There is a nervous look back to the relative safety of the foxholes that the men had departed as they venture into the woods around Oschenkopf. The two riflemen are each armed with an M1 Garand, one carries an extra bandolier of 30 calibre ammunition, the other a blanket to aid wrapping a wounded comrade in.
These men were all relatively new to life in the line, although Mizell and Peddicord did not know Cahow well, other than by his stature Harvey Jorgensen was well acquainted with him, the two men having been at Camp Pickett, USA together. They had also gone on leave together. However, on this mission Jorgensen had stayed behind, Cahow had to rely on strangers now.
Jorgensen continues, "As they ventured further towards the presumed location Bunker 111 there were was an explosion, followed almost at once by a second. There was a cry of great pain and then silence. As to why Mizell and Peddicord left Robert at that time can only be conjecture, but perhaps the thought of more booby traps, or the creeping fear that the Germans were so very near made them retreat at once".
Above: Heber Mizell* and Wilbur Peddicord** rush from the forest, leaving behind them Robert Cahow. The resulting fire from the alarmed Germans threw the survivors back. The confusion that followed meant that Jorgensen and his comrades couldn't locate Cahow. No one was to know, until his recovery 57 years later that Robert Cahow had been fatally injured by the blast (massive fractures, to his left foot, leg, hip and torso).
Later the Germans found and buried Robert near the bunker that had been his units objective earlier that fateful day. Roberts' younger brother Douglas was just 12. He recalled the day that he and his two young brothers were playing in the barn. They saw a car approaching the farm and hid. They knew what the car meant, they had two elder brothers serving overseas. This car was delivering the message that all families dreaded. Their Father came to tell them the news. As the years rolled by the Cahow family did not forget their eldest son and brother. Their other brother William came home from the war with a leg wound. (He'd been in the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion and fought right up the May '45).
In April 2000 German engineers were clearing the forest area around Vossenack prior to returning it to farmland. As they did so they began to unearth war debris. Also they found human remains. These were found to be of an American soldier, nearby two German soldiers were also recovered. Below, the helmet of one of the Germans, who had fallen near to Robert.
The Americans ID disks appeared to read Robert Cahow, but research and examination of the disks and the physical size of the remains implied this was a giant of a man, 6 feet 7 inches tall.
There were numerous traces of that long past battle in the woods. From left; Robert Cahows Army boots, a piece of German barbed wire and pieces of jagged shrapnel. Lastly the dog tags of Robert and his younger brother Douglas. Doug is a veteran of the Korean war.
"Greater love hath no man, that he lays down his life for his friends"
Photo above, October 12th 2009 on what would have been Robert Cahows 93rd birthday: Taken at the actual spot where Robert Cahow fell. It has now become a place of pilgrimage, not only for those interested in the battle, but for those relatives, both German and American, who find some solace and perhaps hope in what this simple memorial stands for. Cahow is but one of many soldiers who fell in these woods, in the last winter of the last war. Where ever he now marches, could it be that Cahow leads a column of fellow "missing" men back towards the families and the final resting place that they all deserve? On December 13th 1944 soldiers of the USA 78th Infantry Division went into action in the Hürtgenwald. They were known as the "Lightning" Division on account of their lightning bolt shoulder patch. The Division was made up of the 309th, 310th and 311th Infantry Regiments. In the 311th was a Pfc Robert Cahow, his Army number was 36206366 and he had originally joined the Army in Wisconsin. The units target was Schmidt, the elusive objective for the 28th Infantry Division during the fighting in November 1944. Pfc Cahow was in action against elements of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division. This unit had been in action several weeks and was in theory supposed to be preparing for the Wach am Rhein offensive. In the fighting that followed Pfc Cahow was listed as MIA. The Ardennes offensive opened on December 16th 1944 and the fighting in the Hürtgen forest was sidelined by events further south in the Ardennes. The Interment service is recounted here by Cpt. Laura Kenney of the present day Lightning Division. The chill sound of "Taps" wafted over the cemetery as 78th Division WWII veteran PFC Robert T. Cahow, listed as Missing in Action for fifty-six years, was finally laid to rest. The bugle was played by Cahow's nephew and namesake, PFC Robert Cahow, Wisconsin National Guard, during the internment ceremony that fittingly took place during the Memorial Day weekend. Even more appropriately, Cahow was accompanied to his grave by a contingent of 78th Division soldiers from the same unit he fought and died with, so many years ago. These young soldiers of today's 3/311th Regiment stepped proudly, and felt the honour keenly, as they escorted and carried the casket of their fallen comrade to its final resting place. The six soldiers: SFC Tony Mitchell, SFC Sean Lucas, SFC Franklin Fayson, SSG Alphonso Hilton, SGT Robert Copeland, SGT Micheal Guyette, were led by CSM Joseph Robertson. Col. John McLean, 78th Division Historian, who had been instrumental in identifying Cahow as a 78th Division veteran served as the Officer in Charge of the funeral detail. The ceremony took place in Cahow's home town of Clear Lake, Wisonsin, population 942. At least two/thirds of that population attended the service. Numerous 78th Division WWII veterans, also attended in order to honour their fallen comrade. One such veteran, CW4 William Elwood, sought and received permission from the Association to fly to Hawaii - where the Army's forensic laboratory for identifying remains is located - and serve as the 78th Division Association official honor guard to escort Cahow's remains home.
Elwood did so at his own expense, he said "Robert deserved it....he fought and died for our country....I was lucky, I just fought, and in gratitude for his sacrifice, I felt I had to make that journey." The five surviving Cahow brothers, who had never rested in their fifty-six year- long-attempt to find out what had happened to their brother, were finally able to say goodbye properly, and lay him to rest near a beautiful memorial to all the veterans from Clear Lake who had made the ultimate sacrifice. The memorial had been built entirely with funds generated by the small town, and the youngest of the brothers, Douglas, had been the primary mover in its inception and raising. Of the seven brothers, five served either in WWII or Korea. The church service was run largely by the Cahow family. Nieces of the fallen Cahow sang "How Great Thou Art," one of them, SPC Lynda Porter of the Minnesota National Guard, singing in full dress greens. Brother Adam told the story of how Robert had died in the cold, dark vicious battle of the Hurtgen Forest. Nephew Scott and another niece named Linda read the 1945 obituary. Brother Douglas recounted the last time he saw his brother, whose 6'7" frame and genial nature had him known to all as a "gentle giant," saying, "He came home on leave before departing to fight in Germany, a mission for which he'd volunteered, despite having a comparatively safe assignment stateside guarding Prisoners of War. He helped Dad in the field, and I can still in my mind's eye see that tall frame stooping to pick corn and lay it in the wagon drawn by our horses." Cahow's remains, in an open casket at the front of the packed church, were wrapped in an Army blanket, and his dress green uniform, complete with the 78th Division Lightning patch, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal with "V" device, Purple Heart, and other medals he had earned, lay atop. A black and white photograph of him in all his youthful glory and height, serving as a Military Policeman, stood on the top of the gleaming wooden casket. The Stars and Stripes adorned the bottom half, and at the end of the service, the 78th Division honor guard tenderly closed the coffin, draping the bright colors fully along its length. With solemn dignity and pride, they carried it from the church, down a long gauntlet of color bearers standing at proud attention, which included many local and state Veteran of Foreign Wars and American Legion units. The hearse was followed to the cemetery by hundreds of cars. The graveside ceremony was opened by a family friend, Daniel Ponath, member of a local American Legion unit, who played the heartbreakingly beautiful trumpet solo "The Lord's Prayer," with tenderness and skill. A gentle, fine mist of rain appropriately set the mood for the service, but did not mask the genuine tears on many onlookers' faces. Town dignitaries spoke against a backdrop of the Nation's flags, all, from Old Glory down through the service flags to the POW/MIA flag, at half-staff. At the end of the spoken memorials, the 78th Division contingent respectfully and crisply folded the colors resting on the casket, and presented them to McLean, who wheeled sharply, and with precision, marching to the first in line of the Cahow brothers. Douglas, in his VFW hat, with tears unashamedly tracing his cheeks, accepted the flag that had draped his brother's coffin. Each brother in turn was presented with a folded flag in wooden case. Then a three-volley gun salute by representatives of Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. The five brothers, Douglas, Adam, William, Harold, and Raymond stood, bareheaded in the rain, holding their flags, as Robert's casket was lowered into the dark, moist earth.
Above: The memorial to Robert Cahow that was unveiled in 2001 as it is today (October 2009). It was only chance that he was found. A German ordnance recovery team having detected the live grenades that he had been carrying. We understand that two German soldiers found nearby have also been identified and given proper burials in the nearby war cemetery.
This part of the forest saw much action during the fighting of October thru December 1944. Nearby another Two American soldiers and a German were discovered in 1976. The memorial being known as "Soldatengrab", soldiers grave.
In June 2002 Douglas Cahow paid an emotional visit to the site of his brothers death in combat in the green hell that was the battle of the Hürtgenwald. Pictured above is Doug. He has draped his Legion jacket and hat over the simple wooden cross (Doug is a veteran of another war - Korea). Doug told me that; "On June 3rd a large contingent of American and Dutch soldiers, plus many family and friends gathered at PFC Robert Cahows memorial. The servicemen put on a simple, but beautiful MIA programme. The highlight was a "last meal" ceremony, where a table, covered with a cloth had salt, a rose, a lemon and the MIA flag/sleeve placed upon it. There is but one chair and this is left empty - as this signifies the soldier who is not there. It was a simple act, but it grabs your heart". Doug says. On June 12th 2004 Doug & Virginia Cahow will once again pay a visit to the site of Roberts battlefield memorial near Simonskall, Germany. Being the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Europe this will be an emotive time. It's hoped that veterans from both sides attend a special service of remembrance for those who still remain unaccounted for after so many years of peace. Meanwhile the work goes on to trace the missing. WW2 Battlefield Relics are working with the USA Central Identification Laboratories in Hawaii - CILHI on other MIA's, who fell in the same conflict.
The Cahow family continue their long association with the Armed forces and serving their country. Nephew Sergeant Robert Cahow, son of Douglas (Pfc Robert Cahow's brother) and Virginia Cahow has served in the 128th Infantry Regiment, Wisconsin National Guard in Iraq during 2004-2005. He earned a Combat infantry Badge. Sergeant Cahow remains an active member of the Army National Guard as a Combat Infantry Instructor.
Nephew Sergeant James Cahow, son of Adam (Pfc Robert Cahow's brother) and Judy Cahow, served along the Berlin wall during the 1980's in the heat of the Cold War.
Niece Specialist Lynda Porter, Grand daughter of William (Pfc Robert Cahow's brother) and Elsie Cahow, served in the Wisconsin National Guard from 2000-2006.
Brothers always! Rob Cahow is never far from the minds of the remaining brothers. From left; Harold a USN veteran of WW2, Raymond also a USN veteran of WW2 and Douglas, a veteran of the Korean conflict, serving from 1950-55.
*Pvt. Heber N. Mizell, ASN: 33882075 was born in 1924. He enlisted on 6th April 1944 at Fort Meade. Once back at safety Mizell and Peddicord recounted their story to Jorgensen and the others in their foxholes. Neither soldier was questioned further upon the fate of Robert Cahow. Mizell was destined not to survive the war, being killed a matter of weeks later.
**Pvt Wilbur C. Peddicord, ASN: 33560281 was born in 1922. He had enlisted on 26th February 1943 at Baltimore. He did survive the war and passed away in 1988, taking the nightmares of the war with him.
As callous as the actions of Mizell and Peddicord might seem, they were in a combat situation and no one should judge them. It is surprising that no one in authority questioned their story or that further efforts were not expended in locating Robert. However it may be that someone did ponder what to do and decided that further losses did not warrant the effort for one man.
Thus Robert Cahow was mourned, as many others still mourn. Until their loved ones once again return to their families and their final resting place.
My deepest gratitude to the excellent Living History Group "35th Infantry Division Belgium" for their generous assistance in bringing the story of Robert Cahow to life.
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