File No.: Battle Study # 22
Title: Location where PFC Joe E., Mann, ASN 39188121 earned the Medal of Honor
Investigation made at: Municipality of Best, The Netherlands,
51° 30' 6" N 5° 25' 9" E
Period Covered: 19 SEP 1944
Date: JUN 2011 - AUG 2012
Case Classification: Location of Historic Event
Status of Case: Case Closed

REASON FOR INVESTIGATION: It came to our attention that the location where Medal of Honor recipient Private First Class Joe Eugene Mann, rifleman, scout and bazooka operator in "H" Company, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, was Killed In Action on September 19th, 1944 is not well known among the general public.
There are two beautiful monuments within the municipal limits of Best in The Netherlands honoring this hero who gave his life for his comrades in arms. One, a tall white statue on the grounds of the Joe Mann open air theatre, was unveiled in 1956 in the presents of Joe's parents. And another one, near the bank of the Wilhelmina Canal close to the Bosch Dijk bridge across this waterway, was officially unveiled by Joe's sister Irene. This monument features a grey stone marker shaped like a flower with parachute canopies for its leafs, but due to its resemblance to a headstone is often referred to as "Joe Man's Grave" locally.

 


The Monument dedicated to Joe Mann's sacrifice for his comrades.
A tall statue with a pelican on top.
Dedicated in 1956.
Pelicans will wound themselves to draw blood for their chicks to feed in case food is unavailable.

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The Joe Mann Monument on Bos Laan Zuid in Best near the location were Joe Mann lost his live.
Dedicated in 1984.

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Joe Mann Monument dedication.
Dignitaries watching the ceremony.
In center is  Joe Mann's sister, Irene Bennett-Mann.
To her right is US Ambassador to the Netherlands
Paul Bremmer ("We got him!") III.


Neither monuments are situated on the exact location where Joe was killed in action.
In this study we focus on that spot.

Battledetective.com read reports, conducted interviews, studied after action reports, post-war footage and publications and visited the battlefield several times.
SYNOPSIS:  
The actions of Private First Class Joe Eugene Mann, US Army Serial Number 39188121, which earned him the Medal of Honor, are described in the citation for his decoration:

"Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H, 502d Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.
Place and date: Best, Holland, 18 September 1944.
Entered service at: Seattle, Washington.
Birth: Reardan, Washington.
G.O. No.: 73, 30 August 1945.
Citation: He distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
On 18 September 1944, in the vicinity of Best, Holland, his platoon, attempting to seize the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal, was surrounded and isolated by an enemy force greatly superior in personnel and firepower. Acting as lead scout, Pfc. Mann boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an 88mm. gun and an ammunition dump. Completely disregarding the great danger involved, he remained in his exposed position, and, with his M-1 rifle, killed the enemy one by one until he was wounded 4 times. Taken to a covered position, he insisted on returning to a forward position to stand guard during the night. On the following morning the enemy launched a concerted attack and advanced to within a few yards of the position, throwing hand grenades as they approached. One of these landed within a few feet of Pfc. Mann. Unable to raise his arms, which were bandaged to his body, he yelled "grenade" and threw his body over the grenade, and as it exploded, died. His outstanding gallantry above and beyond the call of duty and his magnificent conduct were an everlasting inspiration to his comrades for whom he gave his life.
"
 

- Source: (http://www.army.mil/cmh/) -

His actions earned Joe Mann the highest US Military medal, the Medal of Honor:


US Army Newspaper "The Stars and Stripes" of July 30th, 1945

Location where PFC Joe E. Mann was killed in action
The actions of 1LT Ed Wierzbowski's platoon of "H" Company of the 502nd Parachute, of which Joe Mann was a member, are best described in "Rendezvous with Destiny"; the history of the 101st Airborne Division on pages 293 to 298:

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From the available documents it becomes clear that Joe Mann was killed while taking cover in a fairly large foxhole on the north bank of the Wilhelmina Canal in Best, east of the road to Eindhoven (known as Bosch Dijk).
Wierzbowsk's platoon had had visual contact with the bridge but was dug in away from it on a distance where they had not been able to determine what a man in civilian clothes had discussed with a Nazi soldier on that bridge, prior to its demolition.

From comparing several period images with the current situation on the north canal bank, we know that the location changed dramatically over the years.

We studied:
 

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  • a US Army map dated 1943

  • a photo showing Private Celso Garcia of "I" Company (3rd Battalion), 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, who visited the combat scene in 1956.

    Celso presumably was one of the veterans present during the Joe Mann monument dedication that same year. Celso is seen here looking at an empty M1 Garand ammunition clip and the butt of a Nazi K98 rifle. From the terrain features in the photo – the higher ground on which Garcia stands in what appears to be a pathway cut into the canal bank and the low ridge in the background- we think it was taken a few hundred yards east of the road. In 2011 we took these photos on the same location, which is impossible today as this is now the site of recent business development.


 

  • a photo of the destroyed bridge looking from north-west to south-east.

  • several aerial photographs.

    These only confirm that the period map was accurate.

  • film footage from a documentary from the early 1960's telling the story of the people in Best honoring Joe Mann with the monument in the open air theatre also named after him.

    In one scene, two army veterans are shown the location where Joe Mann was killed from the south bank looking across the canal. These are stills from the scene showing the lower canal bank at about 200 to 300 yards west from the Bosch Dijk road bridge.


  • a water color painting by artist H. Standley in Rendezvous With Destiny first published in 1948, looking along the north bank in western direction.

    The bank road is depicted only as a dirt road. Also its caption reads: "looking west from the derricks" referring to some harbor and mooring installations on the canal’s bank. These could be found at the stretch of canal where the waterway was significantly wider to allow barges to make a turn.

Drastic postwar terrain alterations
After the war a paved road named NCB Weg, bicycle lanes and a power relay station have been constructed on the north bank. The heavily damaged Bosch Dijk bridge was replaced and in 1986 an enormous 265 yard long road bridge named "Airborne Brug" was built allowing the A2 expressway from Amsterdam to by-pass Eindhoven en route to Maastricht and eventually the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and Luxembourg.
The construction of the "Airborne Brug" made it necessary to move the original Joe Mann monument, unveiled two years earlier, some 20 yards east to its current location next to a forest lane; Bos Laan Zuid in Dutch.
Finally, in 2012, the swampy area north of the bank saw the development of huge do-it-yourself and sports equipments businesses. It would almost be safe to say that nothing reminds of what Wierzbowski's men went through in this area some 68 years ago.
 

Trace evidence of battle on combat scene
"Almost" nothing, as our visits to the battlefield revealed two important findings.
1) foxholes in between the canal bank and behind the Joe Mann monument.
2) US ammunition found on the canal bank some 30 yards from the Bosch Dijk road.

Foxholes
We have a working hypothesis that these foxholes have been dug by men of Motolla’s platoon in "D" Company who defended the left flank of the American perimeter at the bridge.

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US Ammunition

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The American ammunition, two spent .30 caliber shell casings and one unfired of the same caliber, was found on July 24th, 2011 by battledetectives Tom and Antoine and the webmaster of www.battleatbest.com and subsequently submitted to the Dutch Department of Justice’s Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and examined.
This is the lab report from the NFI:

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From these findings we can determine the general area of operations of Wierzbowski's platoon while at the canal bank. It is an oblong shaped combat scene starting some twenty yards east of Bosch Dijk and ending ten yards east of the Joe Mann monument.

The A2 "Airborne Brug" road bridge consists of two sections, each 16.82 yards wide and accommodating double lanes and an escape lane. The bridge is constructed on concrete pillars and an earthen ramp. The bridge cuts the combat scene in two and, moreover, its ramp covers a large section of it.
When we where using the metal detector on the canal bank in July 2011, moving west to east, we could easily determine where the original soil from the canal bank became covered with the "substance" of which the expressway ramp was made. The detector picked up more and more metal objects and examination of them revealed old garbage, such as jar lids and discarded cooking pans. This led us to believe that household waste from regional garbage dumps was recycled into the new "Airborne Brug".

Earlier, pre-"Airborne Brug", research
From a reliable source, seen here (image below, at left) talking to the US military attaché from the American Embassy in The Hague at about the same location as where Celso Garcia was photographed in 1956, we know that several American foxholes where still present in the area where the A2 expressway now covers a large part of Joe Mann’s combat scene.


The location of today’s Joe Mann monument in the corner of NCB Weg and Bos Laan Zuid, is now located some 200 yards east from its original location where it was unveiled in 1984. The monument had been an initiative of an organization named Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation, with Christ van Rooij as their chairman. Christ van Rooij was a local historian who had been interested in the actions of Wierzbowski's platoon and the heroic death of Joe Mann since the end of World War Two.
Van Rooij was in possession of several items which had belonged to Joe Mann, such as his Holy Bible and rifle bayonet. After his death, Van Rooij's widow donated these items to the municipality of Best in 2004. At present day these items, together with other items relating to Joe Mann and the Medal of Honor which he earned, are on display in the town hall.

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Christ van Rooij (r.) and an unidentified eye witness
pointing location where Joe Mann was Killed in Action.
(Source: Harrie Dijkhuizen; submitted September 2012)

Christ van Rooij and other local historians had explored the battlefield well before the construction of the Joe Mann monument and the "Airborne Brug". It was from their research that the location of for Joe Mann’s monument was chosen where it was originally erected.
 

From evidence obtained from the Regional Historical Center in Eindhoven (RHCE) in November 2012 we know that:
-  The Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation initiated the placement of a landmark on the spot where they said Joe Mann was killed in January of 1984.
- It was determined that this location was on the Northen bank of the Wilhelmina Canal in Best at kilometer location 51.895.
- There is no production of evidence for the choice of this location.
- This location is significantly close to the water's edge and to the bridge across the canal; the original objective of LT Wierzbowski's platoon.
- The monument was unveiled on 19 SEP 1984 at which time it was donated by the Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation to the Municipality of Best.
- The property on which the monument sat originally, belongs to the Netherlands Royal Waterways Authority (Rijkswaterstaat) and had to be leased for the sum of 50 guilders annually.
- This lease ended when it was decided to relocate the monument to Boslaan on property owned by the Municipality of Best in 1990.
- A map in the files indicates a suggested relocation of the landmark to the Southern bank, which has never materialized.

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Documents about the Joe Mann landmark from the Municipality of Best,
filed in the archives of the Regional Historical Center in Eindhoven (RHCE)
 

Original location of Joe Mann Monument; 'on this spot Joe Mann earned MOH"
On 16 FEB 2013, Battledetectives measured the spot where the original monument indication the location where Joe Mann was Killed in Action according to the Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation.
Locating kilometer location 51.895 provided to be handicapped by the fact that the nearest kilometer sign along
NBC-Weg was the one indicating 52.2(00).
We measured 315 meters back in Western direction and marked the spot where the monument was originally dedicated in September 1984.

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In the meantime, we have contacted almost everyone involved with the Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation, still alive today. So far we have been able to discover documents referring to the reason why this organization choose this particular spot.
 
CONCLUSIONS:
Although one may be inclined to believe that the exact location where Private First Class Joe Eugene Mann met his heroic death can still be determined spot on, we think this is difficult in today's combat scene along the canal bank.
It has changed dramatically over the years. It was from the findings of Mr. Christ van Rooij and others that the original 1984 Joe Mann monument was constructed; on or in close proximity to the spot where Joe Mann was killed in action. The monument had to make way for the construction of the A2 expressway. The original location of the landmark remained untouched but it is assumed that the monument was removed to prevent it from being damaged by heavy road construction machinery on the canal bank. From the maps in the archive of the Regional Historical Center in Eindhoven we know where the original Joe Mann landmark was located. We are not (yet) aware of the information which led the people of the Brabants Airborne Museum Foundation to pinpoint the spot at kilometer indication 51.895.


OCTOBER 2013 UPDATE:
On 16OCT2013 we spoke with Mr. A. Boertien, a brother of the late Mr. H. Boertien who had been the secretary of the Brabant Airborne Museum Foundation and who wrote the letter to the Mayor of Best on 17JAN1984.
Mr. Boertien stated:

"At the time I was also involved in searching a suitable location for the spot where Joe Mann had been killed in action. To do this we, my brother and above all Harrie DIJKHUIZEN, have read a lot and did a lot of questioning. My mother lived on a farm that was located nearby at the time. Harrie DIJKHUIZEN showed numerous aerial photographs and then an approximate location was chosen, based on stories, books, staff reports and books. And also in connection with the story that Joe Mann had destroyed an 88 millimeter gun with a bazooka across the WILHELMINA CANAL, more in the direction of SON. The location where he had been killed must have been on higher ground. Close to the canal is lower ground and that is strategically illogical.
In Battle Study #22 on the website I can see two photographs of men pointing to a spot in an overgrown outdoors location. In these photographs I recognize Chris VAN ROOIJ on the right side in both cases; but I do not recognize the man on the left.
I can tell that I have been searching a lot in the area around the northern canal bank and in the Sonsche forest. On one occasion, in the vicinity of my mother’s farm, I found an American gas mask bag containing a gas mask, bandages and a necklace with the name LAMADRID. I have tried to locate this man but I have never found information about this soldier".

For us, this concludes our research for the exact spot of the fox hole where Joe Mann and a number of his platoon members were when the deadly hand grenade landed in it. The original Joe Mann monument stood in the approximate location because the exact spot is impossible to indicate today.
By the way, The Pulles Rosters list these details about LAMADRID:
 

LAMADRID, Ruben, Pfc, 502 2D w/Best

EXHIBITS:
Mapped ballistic evidence found in proximity of the combat scene.

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