Because my investigation for our our adopted soldier Paul Raymond Scott my son Joep was also interested to study one of the soldier at Margraten. He picked out a special soldier from the 101ste 506th PIR wich gived his live for our freedom at Son Netherlands in Operation Market Garden.
We like to say thank you to Fork Union Military Academy and the Famil from Lt Retan, Linda Kay Lemoine witch provided us with a lott of info and private pictures.
2nd Lt George Owen Retan
|Full Name:||George Owen Retan|
|Function:||Assistent 2nd Platoon Leader|
|Division:||101 st Airborne Division|
|Regiment:||506th PIR ( Parachute Infantry Regiment)|
|Battalion, Unit, Company:||1th battalion, 2nd Platoon, A Company|
|Birth Date and Place:||01 Februari 1923 New York|
|Hometown:||Onodaga County, New York|
|Killed in Action||17 September 1944 Son Holland|
|Education:||1937-1941 Fork Union military Academy|
|Family:||George M. Retan ( father) Emily B.(Weller) Retan (mother) Geraldine J. Retan (sister) Lucile M. Retan (sister) Related Family: Linda Kay Lemoine|
|Award:||Purple heart with oak leaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal Bronze star, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Infantery badge, distinguished presidential unit Citation,Basic Parachutist Badge,Fourragère for the French Campaign and the Dutch Campaign.|
|Cemetery||American War Cemetery Margraten Plot A, Row 4, Grave 8|
He stood erect and strong, his posture and sure step belying his age of almost
eighty-nine years. “Can we stop here a moment?” he’d asked. “I’d like to see that up close.” He remained for a long quiet minute or two, just reading the words of the plaque, taking it all in.
IN HONORED MEMORY OF
LT. GEORGE OWEN RETAN
GRADUATED FORK UNION MILITARY ACADEMY
JUNE 2, 1941
KILLED IN ACTION HOLLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1944
Colonel Ed Shames walked slowly back to the golf cart and sat down heavily. Not a word was spoken as we rolled away to our next stop. For the first time during his visit on May 20, 2011, the open and engaging Colonel Shames seemed at a loss for words.
“That really makes you think,” Shames said finally.
“Why him? Why not me? Why did I make it through and not George?”
It’s a Boy
On February 1, 1923, a son was born to Dr. George Matthew Retan and his wife, Emilie. After fathering two daughters, Geraldine and Lucille, there’s no doubt that Dr. Retan was proud to have a son, but he was not to be named George Matthew Retan, Jr.
It seems that Dr. Retan, an avid outdoorsman but very poor swimmer, had been on a fishing trip in the Adirondacks when he somehow managed to fall out of his canoe and found himself in deep trouble.
His friend and fishing companion, a man named Owen, saved Dr. Retan’s life that day.
And so it was decided that Dr. Retan’s son would carry the name George Owen Retan.
Dr. Retan served as a professor of pediatrics at Syracuse University, and he maintained a private practice out of the family’s home on James Street in Syracuse, New York.
Dr. Retan was something of a pioneer and researcher in medicine and his name remains a footnote in today’s medical journals.
He owned one of the first x-ray machines in private practice in New York. His early research on the treatment of a dangerous type of childhood intestinal blockage (known as intussusception) using a barium enema while observing the process by x-ray fluoroscopy was published and helped popularize this form of treatment.
He also researched innovative treatments for childhood polio, and a chapter is dedicated to his efforts in a 1939 book entitled Modern Miracle Men.
His controversial treatment methods became outdated, however, once the polio vaccine was developed
George Owen Retan seemed to have inherited his father’s intelligence, and he began to distinguish himself as a student when he enrolled as a freshman at Fork Union Military Academy in September of 1937 and was assigned to C Company.
His freshman year he earned a report card filled with mostly As and only the occasional grade of B.
The society pages of the Syracuse newspapers often carried news of Dr. George Retan, the wellknown physician, and his family. Dr. Retan and his wife earned frequent mentions in the local press for their participation in various cultural and charitable activities in Syracuse, so when young George Owen Retan made the honor roll at Fork Union Military Academy, that news was prominently reported in the hometown newspaper.
Cadet Retan earned officer’s rank during his four years of high school at the Academy and served as part of the editorial staff for the Skirmisher (the Academy’s yearbook) and as an officer in the Athenian Literary Society.
His senior photograph shows a clear-eyed young man in an officer’scoatee with two stars at his collar.These stars were worn on the uniform at that time as “academic stars” indicating outstanding performance in the classroom, and the officer’s
rank was worn on the sleeve. Retan’s academic achievement earned him admission to one of the nation’s top Ivy League institutions. He enrolled in the prestigious Cornell University following his graduation from Fork Union Military
Academy on June 2, 1941.
Winds of War
As George Owen Retan embarked on his college career as a freshman at Cornell, the United States was facing the likelihood of greater involvement in the war that had been building on the European continent and stretching into Africa and Asia. Hitler in Germany and Hirohito in Japan were spreading turmoil across much of the world and the Americans would not be able to stand on the sidelines much longer.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise raid on Pearl Harbor, sinking many ships of the US Navy and guaranteeing the Americans’ entry into World War II. The very next day, George Retan left the campus of Cornell University to visit his father in the office of his medical practice. He declared to his father his intention to leave college and join the military.
Retan finished out his freshman year, even joining the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, but he made good on his plans to join the war effort in the summer of 1942.
You’re In the Army Now
On August 25, 1942, George Owen Retan enlisted in the United States Army. When he
asked the recruiter where they needed men the most, he was told they needed paratroopers, so that’s where Retan volunteered to serve. The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was to be a new “super unit” of elite fighters, kind of a precursor to today’s Delta Force or Seal Team Six. The 506th PIR recruited only men of better than average intelligence and physical condition, and sent them to Camp Toccoa in a remote part of Georgia to undergo the most rigorous training schedule any military unit to that time had been required to complete. Ed Shames recalls that he and Retan must
have arrived at Camp Toccoa on the same train, as they ultimately were assigned together to Company I in the Third Battalion of the 506th. Shames describes the training they went through as “almost inhumane” as the men were winnowed
from almost 7,000 recruits down to about 2,500 tough, hardened fighting men. Anyone who stopped running on the regular morning runs 31/2 miles up (and 3 1/2 miles down) Currahee Mountain was removed from the unit. Anyonewho was unable to qualify at the “expert” level with their rifle, machine gun, or mortar was
eliminated. When the regiment was sent to the large rifle ranges at Clemson University to finish perfecting their marksmanship skills, no trucks were on hand to transport them. They marched the 48 miles from Toccoa to Clemson. Anyone who fell out during the long march was removed from the unit.
During this arduous training, a strong bond was formed between five friends in I Company, Shames reports. Joe Madona, Joe Beyerle, James Japhet, Ed Shames, and George Retan became fast friends, with George as kind of their leader. Retan seemed to know the ropes and helped them all through the training regimen, Shames
recalls, displaying a level of leadership and experience that Shames now credits to Retan’s background as a FUMA cadet. “He must have learned that here,”
Shames says. “I just tried to follow his lead.” Retan’s leadership abilities were noticed by his commanding officers, and Retan was soon promoted to Sergeant and placed in charge of a squad. In December of 1942, the regiment was to travel to Fort Benning for parachute jump school. First Battalion traveled by train from Toccoa to Benning. Second Battalion marched 102 miles to Atlanta in three days and then took a train to
Benning. Third Battalion, Retan’s battalion, took the train to Atlanta, and thenmarched 136 miles in four days to arrive at Fort Benning, smashing a record for long distance marching previously set by the Imperial Japanese Army. The 506th PIR was attracting attention as an elite airborne unit like none before. More specialized training continued for the regiment and by February of 1943, Ed Shames had also been promoted to Staff Sergeant and movedto Headquarters Staff, but he still remained close
with his buddies in I Company.
On September 5, 1943, the regiment boarded the troop ship Samaria and sailed for England. The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was soon to become one of the most renowned units of the 101st Airborne Division. George Retan and his buddies were going to war.
D-Day: The Normandy Invasion
As the landing craft hit the beaches at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach at dawn on June 6, 1944, George Retan and his comrades had already been in combat for several hours.
The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was one of a number of airborne units that jumped into German-held territory in the hours past midnight.
The Third Battalion of the 506th was to secure two bridges across the Douve River east of the town of Carentan, France. The Germans had built these bridges in recent months so they could quickly move reinforcements to the beach
to meet the expected invasion. It was critical that these bridges be seized and controlled if the beach landings were to succeed.
In the darkness, amid a hail of anti-aircraft fire, the transport planes bucked and swerved, trying to find their drop zones. Paratroopers jumped into uncertainty on that black night, very few landing anywhere close to their targets, most
landing miles away from their objective. Retan’s buddy, James Japhet, never made it into the fight. His plane was hit and the right engine and wing caught on fire. The paratroopers were unable to jump and the plane crashed, killing all
aboard. Joe Beyerle landed on a church in Saint-Cômedu-Mont and slid down the roof to the ground below. Alone, Beyerle tried to make his way toward his objective but was captured by the Germans and spent months in POW camps before escaping and joining up with Soviet Army forces with whom he fought through the remainder of the war. Joe Madona’s plane dropped him far from his intended drop zone and into the area of operations for the 82nd Airborne. He landed in a field flooded by the Germans to hinder paratroopers and had to act quickly to save himself and a nearby comrade from drowning on landing. Madona would survive Normandy but was killed
in action at Bastogne in January of 1945.
Ed Shames landed on the grounds of the Carnation Milk factory near Carentan, all alone. He quickly set about finding other paratroopers and leading the way, many miles, to the bridges that were their objective. Like his buddies, George Retan was dropped far away from his intended target, and within the first five minutes was wounded in the leg by shrapnel. He met up with Colonel Sink’s headquarters outfit and continued fighting for the next three days despite his wounds, until units from Utah Beach broke through and joined with them in the days following D-Day.
Retan was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, though he evidently never spoke of the deeds that earned his medal for valor with his good friend Ed Shames. Shames recalls that Retan didn’t talk much about his injury or D-Day experiences, just wearing a patch on his leg. But then, most of the paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, including Shames, had wounds to show for their first experience in
In the weeks following the Normandy Invasion, Retan’s wounds were treated but not all the shrapnel could be removed. He was offered the oppportunity to return to the United States for further treatment, but he elected to remain with his unit.
In the confusion and fog of war, Retan and Shames had each, separately, distinguished themselves in combat and demonstrated the special kind of leadership needed to command fighting men. They were both selected to receive
battlefield commissions following Normandy and were promoted from Staff Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant rank, two of only three men in the regiment to receive this recognition.
Ed Shames was transferred to E Company in the 2nd Battalion of the 506th and placed in command of the company’s “patrol platoon.”
George Retan was moved to A Company in the 1st Battalion of the 506th as the Assistant Platoon Leader of the 2nd Platoon.
A Quiet and Humble Leader Bill Chivvis was a young soldier assigned to I Company as a replacement in the days following Normandy. As the Normandy veterans began
returning to Ramsbury, England, Bill Chivvis and his fellow replacements got to see Retan in action.
“After a time we became aware of Retan visiting the Company ‘I’ area to greet his returning friends. On each visit he would stop and talk to the ‘know nothing’ replacements and try to answer our stupid questions. There is no greater gulf than that which exists between combatants and non-combatants but this did not affect
Retan’s behavior made an impact on this fresh young recruit. “From these brief visits, I learned a lesson which would follow me through the Holland and Belgium campaigns: I always took the time to talk to incoming replacements.”
These few encounters with George Retan made a lifelong impression on Chivvis, who spoke of Retan in a 1995 letter to researcher and author Peter Hendrikx. “I will describe Retan as a quiet, humble young man, but very intelligent, very alert, and very focused. He was a natural leader who inspired confidence without even trying. Hewas a man of the highest character.”
Operation Market Garden
In just a few short weeks, the 506th was head back into combat, part of the largest airborne invasion ever undertaken to that time. The plan was for American and British forces to capture a number of bridges in Holland, giving the Allies an access route into Germany around the Siegfried Line defenses. The 506th jumped in clear skies on the afternoon of September 17, 1944, into a large field near the town of Son. The daylight jump, made possible by Allied air superiority, was a big improvement on the confusion seen at Normandy. The regiment landed almost in formation and met little resistance as they left the drop zone. Company A was to capture the main bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal at Son. Almost half of 1st Platoon had been dropped some distance from the rest of the company, so 2nd Platoon was placed in the lead. Platoon Leader 1st Lieutenant Galarneau had broken his ankle on the jump, so it was up to 2nd Lieutenant George Retan to lead the regiment through the Son Forest toward their target. About 400 yards into their advance, the company engaged a number of German riflemen, suppressing their fire and continuing to push toward the bridge. When the company reached a point in the woods about 200 yards from the bridge, all of a sudden one of the three 88mm artillery pieces guarding the bridge opened fire into the trees. Sgt. Joe Powers of 2nd Platoon was hit by shrapnel and wounded almost immediately.
Soon the other two large 88mm guns had lowered their barrels and begun firing into the woods. The 88mm gun is designed to shoot planes from the sky, but the Germans had found it to be a terrible and terrifying anti-infantry gun as well. The 88s were soon joined by the thump of 81mm mortars “Men were being killed,” recalls Donald R. Burgett, a soldier in A Company. “We had to do
something.” Company A faced only one choice. They had to attack headlong into the massed fire of three fearsome cannons. The soldiers raced through the woods and then across the grass straight into the muzzle blasts of the massive artillery pieces. After overwhelming the Germans at the guns and silencing the artillery, the paratroopers then stormed the remaining yards toward the bridge to seize their objective, but the Germans set off replaced explosives just before the Americans set foot on the structure, blowing it up in their faces. As the smoke cleared and A Company regrouped, the costs of the short fierce battle were plain to see.
“Our company lost nearly 30 percent of our officers and men in the Son Forest. Lieutenant Retan was among the first of our men to be killed in the woods,” recalls Don Burgett. “Within hours of our landing in Holland, A Company had been battered in battle and bathed in blood.”
’Til the Boys Come Home
Don Burgett would continue fighting through Europe with A Company of the 506th and return home from the war to write several gripping books about his experiences, each widely hailed for their first-person vividness. Ed Shames (who was just a quarter-mile or so away at Son and learned quickly of his close friend’s death) would continue to lead his platoon of Easy Company soldiers on through Belgium, Bastogne, Berlin, and into the pages of history as Stephen Ambrose’s famed “Band of Brothers.” Shames earned the distinction of returning more soldiers home, safe and alive, than any other platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division. This despite the fact that his platoon was often called on to undertake dangerous patrols and assignments.
For George Owen Retan, however, his war ended on September 17, 1944, in the Son Forest of Holland. He lies in Plot A, Row 4, Grave 8 of the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten.
His resting place is attended to regularly by citizens of that country who have
adopted the graves of the American fallen. His bright white headstone is cleaned regularly and flowers placed by these grateful citizens who insure that the sacrifice for freedom he made on their soil will not be soon.
Before departing for the war, George had left instructions that if he did not return his savings were to be donated to the academy. His parents carried out his wishes, and in 1949, the building now used by the band and known as Retan Flag Hall was dedicated as the Retan Library. A plaque honoring George Owen Retan can be found at the entrance door to the building.
He was initially buried at the temporary cemetery in Son, Netherlands , A-2-31
George Retan was not forgotten on the campus of Fork Union Military Academy. As a four-year cadet and a high-performing student, Retan had made quite an impression on the staff and faculty as well. It is clear that the affection was mutual, as George Retan had expressly requested, before heading overseas, that if anything happened to him, his savings should be donated to Fork Union Military Academy. Dr. George M. Retan was devastated by hisson’s death. He closed his private practice and spent much of his time building a log lodge on a remote lake in Canada, a kind of refuge for
him. But Dr. Retan and his wife honored their son’s wishes, and his savings were donated to the Academy, where they helped fund the construction of the school’s new library. On October 11, 1949, Dr. and Mrs. George M. Retan came to the campus of Fork Union Military Academy for the dedication of the Retan Library.
The Retan Rifles
In the fall of 1960, another young freshman
entered the Academy, the son of Lucille Retan
Ramseyer, George Retan’s beloved sister.
“From the moment I was born, I was destined
to be a cadet at Fork Union Military Academy,”
jokes George Owen Ramseyer.
The arrival of George Retan’s nephew and
namesake on campus apparently awakened fond
memories among the faculty and staff who recalled
his uncle’s arrival more than twenty years earlier. Early in 1961 it was decided that the Academy’s crack drill team, then called the Hatcher Rifles, would be renamed to honor George Owen Retan. In a special ceremony, a Retan Rifles banner was presented to young George Owen Ramseyer. The Retan Rifles carry that name to this day, and each year, a number of outstanding young cadets carry his name on their sleeves, a living memorial to honor his service and sacrifice. Recalling a Fallen Friend Standing beside the brass plaque on the wall dedicating the building to the memory of his friend, Ed Shames felt the memories come flooding back, these decades years later. “It’s incredible,” he said, of learning that his young comrade was one of FUMA’s most honored alumni. “It’s just indescribable.” Now a Colonel, though retired from his service to the nation, Shames had volunteered to come to FUMA to talk to cadets about his fallen friend. Standing in front of the entire Upper School Corps of Cadets, Shames wore a bright yellow jacket covered in patches honoring the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 101st Airborne Division of which they were a part, and Easy Company, his own band of brothers. The jacket was a gift from the HBO producers of the miniseries about his famed unit. “They made $190 million telling our story,” quipped
Shames. “All I got was this jacket.” Shames shared stories of the training that he and George Retan had endured together at Currahee Mountain. He answered questions about Bastogne, the daring rescue of British paratroopers across the Rhine River, and many other exploits with Easy Company. Current members of the Retan Rifles crowded around after his talk, and Shames autographed copies of the book Tonight We Die As Men for which he had authored the foreward. Shames had brought the books, which tell the story of the Third Battalion of the 506th, as a special gift to the Retan cadets and the school’s library. Although he only lived a short twenty-one years, the lessons to draw from Retan’s life seem clear. Study hard, volunteer where you are needed, do your best, accept responsibility, lead from the front, be kind and gracious to all. When asked how the young men of FUMA could best honor the memory of George Owen Retan, Shames offered the following simple advice:
“Work hard. Try to be great at something.
If you can’t be great, be good.
If you can’t be agood leader, be a good follower.
But be good.
George was no angel, but he was good-hearted.
George Retan was a good man.”
After all i like to say thank you to Fork Union Military Academu witch gived me a lott of info including the Family from Lt Retan, Linda Kay Lemoinewith provided me from some private pictures.