Frank Lautenberg in undated photo during his WWII service.
Source: (AP Photo/Photo provided by Sen. Frank Lautenberg)
The late Senator Frank Lautenberg enlisted in early 1942 after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He began his service in 1943 after he turned 19, finished high school, and his father passed away.
He was assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps and did basic training Signal Corps training center at Camp Crowder, Neosho, Missouri.
After basic training he was sent to the Signal Corps base at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey where he hoped to be admitted to Officer Candidates School.
Instead he was assigned to Company C, 3185th Signal Service Battalion. Company C was the battalion’s Open Wire Repair Section with pole and wire responsibilities including construction and maintenance. He had the enlisted rank of Technician Fifth Grade
On September 7, 1944, the 3185th left Boston aboard the Navy transport U.S.S. West Point (AP23). The Nazi U-boats had been defeated so the ship sailed alone rather than in convoy. They arrived at Liverpool, England on September 14, 1944.
From Liverpool, the battalion went to Southampton, England where they boarded ships to France. From the ship the battalion was transferred to small craft and disembarked on one of the Normandy beaches. From France they were sent to Antwerp, Belgium where they served for the rest of the war.
Antwerp was liberated on September 4, 1944. Access to its harbor and port were secured by November 26 and became a major supply facility for the Allies. Army Service Forces were responsible for operating the port and distributing the supplies. Sen. Lautenberg and the 3185th may have been one of the Army Service Forces’ Signal Corps units that provided communications infrastructure and support.
Sen. Lautenberg reports that in an attempt to disrupt this supply line, the Nazis bombarded Antwerp almost continuously with V-weapons and jet bombers. Over 1200 V-1 and V-2 weapons hit Antwerp between October, 1944 and March, 1945. They were militarily ineffective as they rarely if ever hit the military targets of the harbor, port, and supplies. Instead they mostly hit the civilians of Antwerp.
Civilian casualties in Antwerp from a 1944 Nazi V-weapon attack on Antwerp while Sen. Lautenberg was serving nearby.
While up on a communications pole Sen. Lautenberg was knocked to the ground by the shock wave from the nearby explosion of a V-weapon. He suffered only minor bruises and resumed work the next day.
The Nazi attack on December 16, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge, had among its objectives the capture of Antwerp. Sen. Lautenberg and his unit were sent to the Antwerp train station and issued ammunition. The Americans stopped the Nazis before Sen. Lautenberg was deployed to the front.
After the defeat of the Nazis, the 3185th collected and secured valuable Army communications equipment. They were then sent to camps near Reims to be redeployed to the Pacific and the war with Japan. While there they learned of the dropping of the atomic bombs and the Soviets declaration of war and attack on the Japanese followed by the surrender of Japan.
In 1985 while President Reagan was visiting the German military cemetery at Bitburg which included some graves of Nazi SS war criminals, Senator Lautenberg visited the graves of American WWII soldiers at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.
Senator Lautenberg and my father, Felix A. Cizewski
If it was not for Senator Frank Lautenberg’s service in the non-divisional 3185th Signal Service Battalion, this unit would be almost unknown and lost to history.
His passing is an opportunity to remember the service of such units. That also honors Sen. Lautenberg’s memory as it continues his work. Along with his life long commitment to ensure veterans received benefits such as health, housing, and education, he also prioritized their recognition and remembrance.
The popular culture image of WWII is of troops on the front lines and combat aircrews.
Behind every ground combat soldier were at least 10 men and women providing support. Behind ever combat air crew were least 12 men and women providing support. Those were millions of men and women in thousands of units such as Sen. Lautenberg’s 3185th and Felix A. Cizewski’s 3110th Signal Service Battalion.
If my late father wrote letters home, none survived. He talked very little of his service. After his death in 2004, I researched his history. Frank Lautenberg’s description of his service is the closest I have ever found to my late father’s. When I listen to the interview with Senator Lautenberg, I am able to imagine he was also telling my late father’s story.
Both my late father and Senator Lauterberg trained at the same time at Camp Crowder, Missouri in 1943. Both were assigned to Signal Service Battalions and to their battalion’s Company C, the Open Wire Repair Section. My late father’s battalion was in the Army Service Forces. Sen. Lautenberg’s description of his service strongly suggests that his battalion was also.
Both passed through Fort Monmouth, New Jersey on their way to Britain from where they were deployed to France.
Both my late father and Sen. Lautenberg provided communications support for the Army Service Forces, my late father on the Cotenin Peninsula and in Paris, Sen. Lautenberg’s in Antwerp.
Both suffered non-battle injuries during their service. My late father suffered frostbite to his hands and feet. Sen. Lautenberg was knocked off a communications pole from the shock wave from the nearby explosion of a Nazi weapon.
After the end of the war in Europe, both were sent to camps near Reims for redeployment to the Pacific and the war with Japan. They both learned of the surrender of Japan and returned to the U.S. from there.
June 6: 69th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy
On June 6, 1944, Senator Lautenberg in Company C of the 3185th Signal Service Battalion was in the U.S. preparing to be deployed to Europe.
My later father, Felix A. Cizewski, in Company C of the 3110th Signal Service Battalion was in southern England constructing the communications infrastructure to support and supply the troops landing on Normandy. The 3110th was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for this work.
WWII veterans in the Senate
Senator Lautenberg was the last WWII veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate. This is the first time in 70 years that the Senate has been without a WWII veteran.
For more information:
Interview format may only play with the free version of RealPlayer software.
Entry for Senator Lautenberg on page 27.
Includes photo of Sen. Lautenberg at Arc De Triumph in Paris.
Contains at least one error and one omission:
His Europe Africa Middle East Medal is erroneously listed as “European African Medal; Eastern Service Medal”.
Senator Lautenberg description of his service indicates that he earned participation credit for service in the Rhineland Campaign. That medal is not listed.
Revised October 26, 2013