|Press release written by Graham Hovey, International News Service Staff Correspondent. He reports on the incident where George Dempsey received the surrender of a German Division in North Africa, which resulted in his promotion to Captain and the Silver Star medal in 1943. The story was picked up and published in several American newspapers in 1944.
At the fifth Army Front in Italy, Feb. 28--(Ins)---it was one of those nights at the front when everyone makes a sympathetic remark about "those poor devils in the infantry," then slides up a little closer to the fire.
The rain and the artillery shelling were both spasmodic. Raindrops peppered the roof of the command tent and occasionally one would zero in on the stovepipe chimney to raise a sputter of protest from the charcoal-burning stove.
The "old man"-Lieut. Col. Bogardus S. Cairns of Decatur, Ga.-mustered all the dignity his 33 years would permit and faced his handful of staff officers.
"Gentlemen," he said, miraculously whisking a bottle of amber fluid from somewhere beneath his desk, "Gentlemen, being concerned at all times with the health of the Battalion staff, especially in damp weather…."
It was as far as "Bugs" Cairns got with his speech. There was loud brief applause and Capt. George Dempsey of Oshkosh, Wis., suggested that staff meetings be held more frequently in the future. Then the bottle started making the rounds. From Dempsey, it went to Capt. Alfred H. McCutcheon of Fort Davis, Tex., then to Capt. John A. Beale of Rockford, Ill., Capt. Frank Jankuskus of Philadelphia Pa. (228 Mountain Street); Major Harold Blodgett of Denton, Tex., Lieut. William E. Kennel of St. Louis, MO., and finally back to Cairns, who put it on the desk.
"I wonder," said Cairns, to a war correspondent who had wandered in, "I wonder if you ever heard the story of how the 15th German Panzer Division surrendered to George Dempsey. George was in the First Armored Div. then."
The correspondent said he had been under the impression that German General Willibald Borowiecz surrendered his 15th Panzer Division Last May 9 in a wheatfield south of Ferryville, Tunisia, to Maj. Gen. Ernest Harmon, who commanded the Division.
"That was afterward," said John Beale. "First of all old Borosowsky, or whatever his name was, surrendered to George Dempsey near Porto Farina. Gave George a slug of Hennessey Cognac, too, as I recall."
George Dempsey helped himself to the bottle again and set it down carefully on the desk.
"That was an ugly rumor," he said. "I never got near that cognac.
"Our Battalion objective that day was Porto Farina. I had my outfit working on the right side of the road and Colonel Cairns was on the left flank. We'd heard the Jerries were trying some sort of dunkirk in reverse at Porto Farina.
"I was working through an olive grove with six tanks when an American Army Captain came up and flagged me down. He was from the First Infantry Division and had been captured by the Jerries two days before, can't think of his name right now. He said the whole 21st Panzer Division staff was waiting to be captured. Mixed up on his division numbers, I guess. Anyway, he led us to a cleared spot and there were about 300 German officers and men just sitting around a bivouac.
"Can you imagine that - about 300 officers and men?"
"General Borowiecz was sitting around a table with a few of his officers and this bottle of Hennessey cognac. He was a sourpuss if I've ever seen one.
"Hell, I didn't know what to do. I just lined up our tanks so we were covering the bunch of Jerries. Then I went up to the General and said, "I'm Oberleutnant Dempsey of the American First Armored Division."
"Did you really call yourself an Oberleutnant?" asked Kennel.
"Sure, it was the only German word I knew so I wanted to make use of it," said George. "Borowiecz had a Colonel who spoke English and acted as interpreter. I don't remember what I said to him after that - I was pretty excited, I guess I said something about posting a guide on the road to flag down Col. Chauncey C. Benson, our Regimental Commander. I knew Benson would be along soon.
"All the time I was keeping my eye on this bottle of Hennessey, the German Colonel was congenial enough. He kept talking most of the time, saying that the Germans knew it was all over in Africa and were willing to surrender and that he liked the Sherman Tank and a lot of other stuff like that. I was trying to listen to him and still keep my eye on that cognac, but eventually I saw Borowiecz slip it over to his command car. So don't let anyone tell you I ever got a slug of Hennessey that day."
"Did you go back to General Harmon's command post with Borowiecz?" the reporter asked.
"Naw," said George. "I hung around about half an hour until Benson came then took the tanks on to Porto Farina. But the most impressive part of the Borowiecz show came just as he was about to leave with Benson, his whole staff and all the enlisted men jumped to attention.
"He gave them something in German - I didn't catch what it was. It may have been 'Heil Hitler' or 'cuss Dempsey' or something like that - I don't know. Anyhow, they answered him in unison. It was pretty impressive.
"When we got to Porto Farina we saw a lot of Jerries in small groups trying to get away in barges so we shot up the barges and captured the Jerries as they swam ashore - those who were able to swim ashore."
"Do you think those may have been the last shots fired by American Forces in the Tunisian Campaign?" the reporter asked.
"You might be able to call them that," said George. "We didn't consider them as such, however. We always figured we'd actually finished our part in the fighting earlier that morning when we wiped out two 88 millimeter guns at a crossroads near Porto Farina.
"I guess these guns had just a few rounds left and wanted to use 'em up. Anyway, they fired at us, so we got in position and my gunner potted 'em - direct hits."
"What was that gunner's name?" asked the reporter.
"I'll give it to you if you really want it," said George. "But you might not want to use it. You see, he was a sergeant then and he's only a private now."
George picked up the bottle and took an abbreviated swig.
"You see," he said, replacing it on the desk, "He just couldn't stay away from this stuff."
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact email@example.com