In 2015 I had the pleasure of guiding Andy and Amy Schwartz around the battlefields of Normandy. Part of their tour followed in the footsteps of Andy's uncle Ralph M Schwartz and this is his story.
Captain Ralph M Schwartz was one of the medical officers in Company C as they passed through the area between Pont Brocard and Notre Dame La Cenilly, Normandy, France during 28th and 29th July 1944.
The Company, minus the First Treatment Section, advanced 4 miles to a position along the axis of advance about ½ mile south of Pont Brocard. The treatment station opened up at 11.00 hrs and during the afternoon it was shot at by a group of German troops trying to escape from the Normandy Peninsula. They attacked the Company's lines, opening up with small arms fire as they passed, and a shell from a German 88 mm Flak Cannon landed in the adjoining field. During the day a large number of enemy wounded were brought into the treatment station and two German medical officers and four aid-men helped to take care them.
After dusk enemy bombers dropped flares and bombs nearby, but caused few casualties. The First Treatment Section closed station at 18.30 hrs and moved forward to rejoin the remainder of the company by 23.00 hrs. A total of 117 patients were admitted to the treatment stations on 28th July 1944.
On the 29th casualties continued to come into the Treatment Section with large numbers of enemy's wounded being treated. The First Treatment Section moved at 21.45 hrs and after travelling about 15 miles opened station at 23.00 hrs 1½ miles west of Le Guislain. Private First Class Luther W Jones, an ambulance driver, was lightly wounded in thigh by shell fragment while he was attached to 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment and was awarded the Purple Heart. The enemy air force was again active after dark. 217 patients were treated by the company.
By the evening of 29th July 1944 Captain Ralph M Schwartz had arrived near Notre Dame de Cenilly, France where the treatment station was set up. That night whilst he was treating two US Army and three German soldiers a group of enemy planes flew overhead. The nearby anti-aircraft guns opened fire as Captain Schwartz continues to treat his patients. Soon anti-personnel bombs began landing in the vicinity of his surgical tent and Captain Schwartz told his team to place patients under cover and then find cover for themselves.
A cluster of the bombs landed struck close by causing 35 casualties. Captain Schwartz was uninjured and he organised those of his men who had not been hit into First Aid teams. He continued to lead these teams through two further air-raids without regard for his own safety. Under his leadership, and by his example, the wounded were treated and evacuated.
For his actions on 29th July 1944, Captain Ralph M Schwartz was awarded the Silver Star. His citation reads:
"Captain Schwartz with a group of enlisted personnel was rendering medical service on the 29th July 1944 in a Surgical tent located one-half mile North of Notre Dame La Cenilly, France, Coordinates T-376513 Coutances Sheet 6F3, to two United States Army patients and three enemy (German) patients when at 2200 hours of this date a terrific anti-aircraft barrage opened up on a group of enemy planes which were over the area. Captain Schwartz advised his group to place patients under cover and then find cover for themselves when a cluster of anti-personnel bombs struck the immediate vicinity scattering shrapnel all through the surgical tent causing many casualties and also many clusters of anti-personnel bombs struck surrounding areas, causing about thirty-five (35) casualties in all. As soon as the first attack subsided, Captain Schwartz, who was not injured, organized the uninjured portion of his group and the remainder of the uninjured personnel of this medical section into an active team of First Aid men, Litter Bearers and Ambulance drivers. Captain Schwartz continued working and leading this team through two additional enemy air-raids without regard for his personal safety in order that all of the wounded might be gathered up and treated and immediately evacuated. He held his men together by words of encouragement and the fact that he did most of the work himself, greatly strengthened the morale and working efficiency of his group. Rapid first aid and evacuation of the casualties under such difficult circumstances could not have been accomplished without Captain Schwartz's gallant leadership and superb supervision."
The story does not end there however, as it would not be complete without telling the story of Amy and Andy's visit to Notre Dame de Cenilly. I met Amy and Andy as they arrived in France at Cherbourg and we spent a couple of days exploring the American D-Day landing beaches and American Airborne area. Their third day we spent following in the footsteps of Lieutenant Maurice Finn, Amy's uncle who served with the 83rd Infantry Division, and Capt Ralph Schwartz, Andy's uncle who served with the 48th Armored Medical Battalion.
Wartime map of the area with the location of Captain Schwartz's Surgical Unit highlighted.
I had been to check out the location at Notre Dame de Cenilly before picking Amy and Andy up for their tour. I was confident that I had identified field where the tents of the treatment station had been, however, it was not accessible from the road. I had identified a house that looked like the farm and went there to request permission to walk to the field, but unfortunately no one was home. I later met a local who told me that the area was indeed correct and that the 48th Armored Medical Battalion had been in the fields nearby during the war.
When we arrived in the area I took Amy and Andy to a number of points from where we could overlook the area. Here we discussed what had happened on 28th and 29th July 1944. I then decided to try the house again. Pulling up in our vehicle we got out and went to the front door of the house. When I knocked a French lady, whose name was Anne-Marie, answered and I explained to her what we were doing. She explained that the house was no longer the farm as it had been sold and was now her family home. The fields had been sold separately to a nearby farmer. Anne-Marie was, however, very interested in what we were talking about and called another local who came to the house; this local was John Hall, an Englishman living in France.
John, Amy, Andy, Anne-Marie and I spent some time discussing the location of the treatment station and whilst we agreed that it had been in the vicinity we could not agree that it was in the field I had located. John telephoned the farmer who owned the field and he agreed to let us walk to where I thought the tents of the treatment station had been located.
Google Earth view of the area where the Treatment Station was set up. The field is highlighted by the white dashed line and the pertinent roads and tracks have been picked out for reference. The location of the four tents of Captain Schwartz's Treatment Station is indicated by the X.
Once in the field we started to have a good look around. The hedgerow surrounding the field offer some cover from view and there was an overgrown old track leading to the far end of the field, close to where I thought the tents had been. The track linked the two roads that ran closest to the field and would have made a good in and out route from the treatment station for field ambulances. Further discussion led to John calling another local Emile Beauquesne and we retraced our steps to go to his home.
Andy and Ian stood in the field where Ralph's surgical unit was on the evening of 29th July 1944.
Emile Beauquesne was in fact the local to whom I spoke when I came to look at the area prior to the tour. He had been a young boy at the time of the Battle of Normandy and remembered the American hospital tents being in the field. Emile had been treated in the Treatment Station when he had been hurt in the bombing and he confirmed that the field in which we had been standing was indeed the location of the Treatment Station where Captain Ralph M Schwartz was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 29th July 1944.
Andy Schwartz and Emile Beauquesne.
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