Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff, Silver Star, Purple Heart, KIA 11 July 1944, F Co, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division

WW2 2nd ID patch
I discovered the story about Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff (of the 2nd Infantry Division) in a most unusual way.  
I get requests from colleagues all over the world to find WW2 combat veterans whose war artifacts have been found or acquired by military enthusiasts, metal detectorists, historians, collectors, or a civilian coming upon it by chance.  This request was no different.  However, the dogtag in this story, and how it was discovered was unique. 
Mr. Bradley is a friend in the UK, and we've worked on a few WW2 files regarding US Army dogtags and artifacts found on battlefields in Europe. 
Scott Bradley of WW2
Treasure Hunters
Mr. Bradley's father had rescued the tag in question from a pile of junk about to be sent to recycling.  It was pure happenstance he was there that day and took a moment to flick through the bits and bobs of metal about to be sorted and smelted at a recycling centre.  He gave the tag to his son, and due to it's deteriorated state it's story was not pursued further for a few years. 
Spring 2019 Mr. Bradley reached out to me to see if I could divine who the tag once belonged to and perhaps was there a veteran still alive or a family who might want it?

The photo of the tag as it was sent to me early 2019

Without a doubt, this was my most difficult case yet... not in terms of tracking the family, but in terms of simply reading the tag.  I spent several hours playing name games and working through combinations of letters and locations to cross-reference which surname the tag belonged to.  Finally the search bore fruit and I hit upon the KALMIKOFF family.  
Abraham Kalmikoff was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, NY September 10, 1920.  He enlisted in the US Army February 1941 (listing he was born in 1919 instead of 1920) after working as a shipping/receiving clerk and completing 3 years of high school.  He married Mary Rabichev and they had one child, Barbara Kalmikoff, born December 1943. 

Someone erroneously wrote on the photo that Pvt Kalmikoff was KIA during the Battle of the Bulge
(photo preserved and kept in the family archive of Abie's cousin Anne Kalmikoff Miller)

Soon Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff was overseas with F Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.  They crossed the English Channel onto Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 (D-Day +1) near near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.  (This brief overview of their combat record belies the cost the 2nd Infantry Division endured during combat from 12-16 June as they tried to take Hill 192.  1,200 casualties over a few days grounded the division into defensive positions around Hill 192, sometimes sharing the same hedgerow with their German counterparts. It was not until a month later when the final assault for Hill 192 commenced.)  

"Attacking across the Aure River on 10 June, the division liberated Trévières and proceeded to assault and secure Hill 192, a key enemy strong point on the road to Saint-Lô. After three weeks of fortifying the position and by order of Commanding General Walter M. Robertson, the order was given to take Hill 192. On 11 July under the command of Col.Ralph Wise Zwicker the 38th Infantry Regiment and with the 9th and the 23rd by his side the battle began at 5:45am. Using an artillery concept from World War I (rolling barrage) and with the support of 25,000 rounds of HE/WP that were fired by 8 artillery battalions, the hill was taken."

Pvt Abraham's silver star citation states that: 

"Pvt Kalmikoff was a runner for the weapons platoon of Company 'F', 38th Infantry, during an attack in the vicinity of St. Jean-des-Baisants, France.  The supporting tanks were unable to cross the road until a suitable site was found which would be clear of mines for passage into the fields beyond.  
Private Kalmikoff, without hesitation, voluntarily went forward of our lines, braving the enemy artillery and small arms fire.  With disregard for his personal safety, he selected a route of advance for the tanks and directed fire on the enemy strongpoints before being killed.  Private Kalmikoff's actions aided materially in reducing the enemy strong points and in allowing the company to advance."

Pvt Kalmikoff's Silver Star Citation courtesy of Scott Kalmikoff


Referring again to the "St. Lo" report from the 'American Forces in Action Series, Historical Division, War Department the following actions of 11 July, 1944 are described: 

"Because the 38th Infantry line was curved back on the right, Company E on that wing began its attack at H-30 minutes in an attempt to straighten the regimental line. The uneven line resulted from a bloodless advance made on 1 July by the 3d Battalion, 38th Infantry, which pulled a "sneak play." Observing that the Germans on this front were withdrawing from their outpost line (OPL) to the MLR at night, to avoid ambushes by our patrols, the 3d Battalion took advantage of this procedure by a night advance. The move netted 800 yards, without fighting, on the left (east) but only 400 yards toward the division boundary. The enemy made no attempt to retake the OPL. At 0630 the 38th Infantry launched its main assault toward Hill 192, the 2d Battalion on the right and the 1st Battalion on the left, following 100 yards behind a rolling barrage. The regiment was reinforced by two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion, a company of the 2d Engineer Combat Battalion and a company of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion.

Company E on the right ran into stiff opposition almost immediately, as it tried to reach the small ridge commanding a draw leading up to the hamlet of Cloville. Here was one of the enemy strongpoints, already known as "Kraut Corner," fanatically defended by half a company of Germans who had survived the heavy artillery pounding prior to the attack. The 2d Platoon of Company E tried to work its way up to the first hedgerow in the fields, but was unable to advance because of automatic weapons and mortar fire. The enemy's mortars were registered on the hedgerow lines and blanketed all routes of advance. The 3d Platoon was sent in to give support; a few men succeeded in working their way near enough to the enemy position to throw hand grenades, but got no farther. The defenses of Kraut Corner finally gave way when the 1st Platoon got around the east side of the strongpoint. Scouts streaked along the flanking hedges, supported by BAR's, machine guns of the infantry, light mortars, and the two machine guns on a tank. When eight or ten riflemen penetrated the enemy defense, resistance crumbled, and 15 prisoners were taken. Three paratroopers who still held out were eliminated by a tank dozer which buried them under five feet of dirt.

Company E took more than an hour to clear Kraut Corner. To the left, Company F was moving more rapidly against lighter opposition. By the time Company E had passed the strongpoint, Company F had crossed the Cloville-St-Georges-d'Elle road, hitting and turning the weak flank of the enemy. Less than three hours after the jump-off, the left platoon of Company F entered a small wood near the west nose of the hilltop. Company E at this point was a quarter mile behind, trying to enter Cloville. The advance of the 2d Battalion had settled into a frontal field-by-field battle, accompanied by some house fighting in Cloville and le Soulaire. The enemy positions in Cloville had been shelled heavily by American artillery and both villages were badly damaged. Roofs had been blown off, walls shattered, and the streets were blocked by rubble. The enemy infantry, supported by automatic weapons, a Mark III self-propelled 88-mm, and a Mark IV tank, used the cover of the rubble in an attempt to hold Company E in Cloville. An American tank, after a brief fight, knocked out both the Mark III and the Mark IV, paving the way for infantry to move in and mop up the village. An hour and a half was still required before Company E completed this task and could move into the fields south of Cloville.

With Cloville taken, the 2d Battalion pushed its advance along the west slope of Hill 192, bypassing the village of le Soulaire, Company E going to the west and Company F to the east. At approximately 1700 the assault units reached the St-Lo-Bayeux highway and the infantrymen began to cross the road one at a time. The tanks were held up because of rough, wooded terrain and the fire of antitank guns and bazookas which covered both the highway and the roads running south from it. They finally slipped across on the left of Company F.

By the end of 11 July the 2d Battalion had organized and was defending the ground along the St-Lo-Bayeux road. It was the only assault battalion of the 2d Division to reach its objective that day, having advanced approximately 900 yards on an 800-yard front. The work had been done by two companies; Company G, which had not recovered from its losses of 16 June, remained in reserve during the day, suffering 17 casualties from enemy artillery fire."



It is my opinion that Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff was killed during the tedious crossing of the St. Lo- Bayeux highway.  The tanks were held up, and finally crossed to the left of Company F.  While infantrymen were slipping across the road one at a time, braving being an easy target during the sprint of their life; Pvt Kalmikoff was running back and forth, exposing himself, and working to find a suitable spot for the tanks to cross successfully.  It was here, in the harsh and bright sunlight of a waning summer's day in Normandy, about 5-6pm that he was killed.  

Pvt Abraham ("Abie") was mourned and deeply missed by his family; and the daughter who never had the opportunity to know him.  One interesting aspect of his military career stands out.  He enlisted in February 1941 and by July 1944 he was still a Private.  While none of the people who knew him are still living, I believe Abie was larger than life, a rebel, driving his commanding officers a little crazy, having no patience for 'ridiculous army rules', but was one helluva soldier and friend....and his brothers in arms loved him for it.  

Scott Kalmikoff introduced me to one of the last people who saw Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff alive.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Derek Burke on the phone about his time with Abraham Kalmikoff.  Just before the Normandy invasion Pvt Kalmikoff and one of his buddies traveled to Harpenden, Hertfordshire to visit the British side of his mother's family that he had not met before.   His mother and father's families had emigrated to the UK and USA from Belarus.  His mother's sister's family had moved from London to the countryside where they were safe from the death and destruction London and surrounding areas were enduring at the hands of Hitler's brutal bombs.  Pvt Kalmikoff stayed several days with his Aunts, Uncles and cousins.  Derek Burke was a very young child at the time, but still has a few warm and loving memories of Abraham Kalmikoff.  He remembers Abraham playing with him and tossing him into the hay piles.  Abraham also taught Derek two songs from America, the bluegrass classic "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and Bing Crosby's "Don't Fence Me In".  The news of Pvt Kalmikoff's death was something that shattered the hearts of the families, both in the UK and US.  Mr. Burke recalled the visit of Rebecca "Riva Leyka", Abraham's mother in 1952.  She was able to travel to visit her son's grave in Normandy.  Later in life when Derek visited Abraham's grave, his elderly Aunts sent their blessings and grief.  Derek also recounted much more sorrow the extended Kalmikoff family shouldered during the War.  A large Jewish family, originally from Shklov, Belarus, many of their relatives and friends still in Shklov were brutally executed by the German killing squads (including Sondercommando 7b) starting in the summer of 1941.  Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's fight was personal and deep.  His loss is ever poignant against the backdrop of the darkness of fate his extended family suffered.  

Pvt Kalmikoff was eventually buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-Sur-Mer,  Plot I Row 17 Grave 29.
Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's Grave in Colleville-Sur-Mer; 
courtesy of the Kalmikoff family



The mystery of how the dogtag came to be in England may never be solved.  The tag was sent to a recycling centre during a house-clearing process after it's unknown resident died.  The Bradley father and son were quick to retrieve and protect this fragile tag for several years.  Pvt Kalmikoff's tag is now in route to be united with his beloved daughter, Barbara.  This reunion would not be possible without the expert assistance of the Kalmikoff family historian, Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff of New York. 

Barbara and her mother Mary, Abraham's daughter and widow


Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff, family historian

When there is a death due to combat, a deep soul hole of missing and grief is formed in a family; even unto several generations.  The agony of loss of the young men who have fallen in wartime is beyond the scope of language to describe.  Mr. Bradley of the UK, Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff of New York, and myself are so thankful to have met one another in this full-circle way; 78 years after Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff enlisted in the US Army. His dogtag bears the effects of violence, and I'm utterly grateful it was not deteriorated more when I began to examine it via the photograph above.  

We salute you Pvt Kalmikoff, and honor your memory.  

Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's spirit was bright, joyful, free, determined, courageous and loyal unto death.  Poetically, the refrain from Bing Crosby's "Don't Fence Me In" is a fitting sentiment to close the telling of his story and to remember his spirit and sacrifice: 

"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in"

6 comments:

  1. No memorial to this hero , Abe Kalmikoff , would be more fitting, than this epitaph presented here by this meticulous, exacting, precise study by such an extraordinary Historian....Katey

    ReplyDelete
  2. the above comment was written by Derek Burke of UK a relative of "Abe".

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank You Scott, Katey, Scott, and Derek. Abe was my grandfather, and because of the circumstances I never had a chance to know him. The photo of his recovered dog tag and eventually being able to hold it in my hand will be the closest I can come to the last moments of his life. I’m honored to hear of his heroism and an only beginning to understand the gravity of receiving a silver star. I am forever grateful for his role in fighting against ideologies that promoted intolerance and treated people inhumanly. Above that I thank him for his part in creating our branch of the family without which I wouldn’t be here. Thank you for writing this article and grafting a piece of our family tree back into my life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so thankful you were able to read this, Mark, and hope it is in a small way befitting of the memory of your Grandfather Abe. I'm overwhelmed with joy knowing that the tag is now in your family's possession. Bless you all. -katey

      Delete
  4. I believe Katey mistakenly said Sondercommando while I think she meant to say
    Einsatzgruuppen. The Einsatz were the murderers the sonders.were the soon to be murdered.
    Regards Derek Burke.

    ReplyDelete
  5. On this day ,in 5 or 6 hours time,76 years ago, Abe together with his comrades in arms were fighting by hill 192 in Normandy when suddenly his life ended.

    Rest in Peace Abe....thank you and your generation for our lives and liberty.

    ReplyDelete