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To All Who Shall See These Presents Greeting:
This is to Certify that
The President of the United States of America
Takes Pride in Presenting
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
BOTTCHER, HERMAN J. F.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Herman J. F. Bottcher (0-888451), Captain (Infantry), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32d Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 20 December 1942. Captain Bottcher's outstanding leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 32d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, General Orders No. 36 (1943)
Home Town: San Francisco, California
BOTTCHER, HERMAN J. F.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Herman J. F. Bottcher (0-888451), Captain (Infantry), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32d Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces from 5 to 11 December 1942, in the vicinity of Papua, New Guinea. Captain Bottcher's outstanding leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 32d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
Headquarters, South West Pacific Area, General Orders No. 64 (December 28, 1942)
Home Town: San Francisco, California
For his role in the action of December 1942, Captain Bottcher received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military decoration in the Army. Captain Bottcher was killed on December 31, 1944, during the battle of Leyte. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
CPT (note: possibly promoted posthumously to MAJ) Herman J. F. Bottcher (1905 or 1909 – December 31, 1944) was a German national who achieved the rank of Captain (United States) with two different armies: the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War and the United States Army during World War II.
He was awarded two U.S. Distinguished Service Crosses, the second highest U.S. military decoration after the Medal of Honor.
Because the International Brigade was a nominally Communist organization, the United States Government denied him American citizenship for many years. Bottcher however, joined the United States Army and distinguished himself in combat during World War II. He was granted his U.S. citizenship days before he was mortally wounded.
Herman Bottcher was born in Landsberg, Germany and was a witness to the events surrounding his country during World War I. He trained as a cabinetmaker and in 1928, left Germany for Austria. In 1931, Bottcher emigrated to the United States and lived in San Francisco. During the Great Depression, Bottcher who was a student at San Francisco State College and applied for American Citizenship in 1935 (finally granted in Dec 1943).
Spanish Civil War
In 1936, Bottcher dropped his college studies and joined the Abraham Lincoln International Brigade, which fought against Spanish General Francisco Franco, a fascist who revolted against the Spanish government (also known as Spanish loyalists) in what is known as the Spanish Civil War. Franco was an ally of Germany's Adolf Hitler and Italy‘s Benito Mussolini. Bottcher was assigned with the rank of Captain to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and during the 35 months that he served he was wounded twice, once in the Battle of Madrid and once at Aragon. Spanish prime minister Juan Negrín ordered the withdrawal of the International Brigades and on September 24, 1938, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was replaced by Spanish loyalist troops. Bottcher, who was then a Major (United States) with three Spanish military decorations which included the Spanish Medal of Valour, and the rest of the men of the Brigade were sent home.
Bottcher, returned home to San Francisco and continued his college education in architecture. Bottcher's citizenship request was denied by the United States government because of his involvement in the Spanish Civil War.
World War II
Bottcher enlisted in the United States Army at the Presidio on January 5, 1942, just one month after the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. He was assigned to the 32nd Infantry Division a Michigan-Wisconsin National Guard Unit. The 32nd Division was sent to the South West Pacific Theater.
The Battle of Buna
Plaque in Buna dedicated to Herman Bottcher and the men of the 32nd Division
Bottcher's unit was sent to New Guinea in late 1942, as part of a US-Australian offensive against Japanese forces who had built extensive defenses around beachheads in the Buna area.
On November 16, 1942, Australian and US forces began to attack Buna, Sanananda and Gona. Bottcher was promoted to Staff Sergeant, and was appointed a platoon commander in G Company of the 126th Infantry Regiment. On December 5, 1942, when G Company was pinned down by enemy fire, Bottcher led a 31-strong detachment forward against the attacking force. Wading across a creek under constant mortar fire, Bottcher led twelve volunteers through to the Buna beach. He stood up and threw hand grenades at the enemy knocking out several pillboxes en route and was able to drive a wedge between Buna beach and Buna village. Bottcher, one eardrum broken by mortar blast, his hand cut by shrapnel, held that wedge. Bottcher ordered his men to dig in at once on the edge of the beach, which became known as "Bottchers Corner". He and his men fought against enemy attacks from both the village and the fortified beach which resulted in the death of over a hundred enemy soldiers. Bottcher's break-through completed the isolation of Buna village and is considered to be a turning point of the battle. According to a Time magazine article, by Australian war correspondent George Johnston, published September 20, 1943:
"The American, Herman Bottcher, led twelve volunteers into the Japanese positions, built fortifications on the beach. Constantly under fire, Bottcher provided a diversion that resulted in Allied victory. By a conservative count ... Bottcher and his twelve men ... killed more than 120 Japs."
Bottcher was awarded the battlefield commission of Captain and his first Distinguished Service Cross Medal.
On the morning of 5 December, attacks were scheduled for both Warren Force and Urbana Force. On the Urbana front, the attack commenced at 1030, after a B-25 attack and artillery and mortar barrage. "Forward to observe the actions were Generals Eichelberger and Waldron, Colonels De Graaf, Rogers, McCreary and Tomlinson, LTC Merle H. Howe (Division G-3), and CPT Daniel K. Edwards, (General Eichelberger’s aide). Before the day was over, the “observers” were all in the fight, General Waldron and CPT Edwards had received serious wounds, and Eichelberger had revised his opinion of the 32nd‘s fighting ability upward and thought there was 'much to be proud of in the day’s operations.' (Blakeley 88)"
BG Frayne Baker, who was in command of the Division’s elements in Australia, succeeded Gen. Waldron as acting Division commander. General Byers assumed command of the forward elements of the 32nd.
The objective, Buna Village, was not taken due to determined enemy resistance. However, some important gains were made during the attack.
The 2nd Bn., 126th Infantry, with Cannon Company, 128th Inf. on its left, was the main effort. Cannon Company soon ran into trouble so it was reinforced with a platoon from Co. F, 126th Inf. (Lt. Paul L. Schwartz). MAJ Chester M. Beaver (Division staff) became the commander of Cannon Company, and together with Lt. Schwartz's platoon, managed to get to the edge of the village. Company E, 126th Infantry (CPT Schultz), also made it to within 50 yards of the village. Lt. Thomas E. Knode and 1SG Paul R. Lutjens were severely wounded while gallantly leading their platoons. SGT Harold E. Graber, also from Co. E, 126th, was killed when he attacked an enemy strongpoint while firing a light machine gun from the hip. Lt. Robert H. Odell (CO Co. F) had the unique experience of receiving his attack orders from a three star general, LG Eichelberger. The attack, led by Lt. Odell and 1SG George Pravda, initially made some progress but was soon stopped with heavy casualties.
The most important gain of the day occurred when German born SSG Herman J. F. Bottcher led his platoon from Co. H (CPT Harold 'Handy' Hantelmann) on a breakthrough to the sea on the far right. SSG Bottcher's platoon was attached to CPT Cladie 'Gus' Bailey’s Company G. CPT Hantelmann was wounded during this engagement and had to be evacuated; while rolling away from a grenade he inadvertently rolled onto another one. With SSG Bottcher's achievement, the encirclement of Buna Village was complete and Japanese communication between the Village and Buna Mission was severed. SSG Bottcher and his soldiers held their position (nicknamed Bottcher's Corner) against violent counterattacks from both sides. LG Eichelberger said, "The breakthrough was, possibly, lucky; the holding of the position was accomplished by intelligence and sheer guts! (qtd. in Blakeley 91)"
Also, the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry had surrounded the Japanese positions to the right rear of the troops advancing on Buna Village.
"For their parts in this day's work, the Distinguished Service Cross was later awarded to General Waldron, Colonel De Graaf, Colonel Rogers, Lieutenant Colonel Howe, Major Beaver, Captain Edwards, Lieutenants Schwartz and Knode, and Sergeants Lutjens, Graber and Bottcher. (Blakeley 91)" Sgt. Lutjens was given a battlefield promotion to 2LT, and SSG Bottcher was promoted, at the recommendation of LG Eichelberger, directly to the rank of Captain.
On 7 December, COL Tomlinson succeeded COL Grose as commander of Urbana Force. COL Grose had been promised command of the 127th Infantry.
On the morning of 7 December, the Japanese launched more fierce counterattacks against Bottcher's Corner from Buna Village and Buna Mission. "Among the small reinforcements added to Bottcher's command the previous day was Corporal Harold L. Mitchell, Company H, 126th Infantry, whose alertness and vigorous action contributed strongly to the successful repelling of these attacks. He was awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross] for his part in the fight. (Blakeley 92)"
"Later in the day, MAJ [Herbert M.] Smith was severely wounded while encouraging the attacks of Companies E and G. (Blakeley 92)" The mortar round that wounded MAJ Smith also killed two soldiers and wounded two more. MAJ Smith was succeeded by CPT Boice (regimental S-2) as commander of 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. A platoon-sized company, commanded by Lt. Odell, achieved the only gain of the day. That evening the Japanese attempted to reinforce the Village by sea from the Mission, but the attempt was prevented by machine gun fire from CPT Bottcher, who had been wounded during the day.
On December 20, Bottcher led a detachment of his men in an attack and that was within 20 yards of the enemy, when he stood up to draw the enemy fire upon himself so that his men could move forward. He was wounded twice and awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross Medal for his actions. He was sent to Australia, for treatment to his three wounds.
Bottcher returned to his unit following the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, with the rank of Major (United States). There he received the news that the US Government, by a special act of Congress, had granted him U.S. Citizenship. Bottcher's men had spent 43 days behind enemy lines during the Battle of Leyte when, on December 30, 1944, a group of Japanese soldiers encountered Bottcher's men and attacked them with small arms fire and mortar rounds, one of which fell directly into Bottcher's position. The next day, Bottcher's men sent the following radio message: "Bottcher dead. Recon troop withdrawing west..." Captain (later Major) Dick Tucker, sent the following message to the news wires: "Major Herman Bottcher, veteran soldier in the fight against Fascism, hero of the battle of Buna and reconnaissance-troop commander, whose exploits had become legend among the men who were fighting the Pacific war, lay dead on a hill overlooking Silad Bay."
Bottcher is buried in the Manila American Cemetery, Manila in Plot L Row 4 Grave 134.
There is a memorial plaque at Buna today which is dedicated to Bottcher's role in the battle.
Lloyd Joseph Knutson, from Tacoma, Washington, is working on a project to honor Major Herman Bottcher.
In 1945, Sgt. John Rossen wrote an eloquent poem that pays tribute to Bottcher and the sacrifice he made in his fight against fascism. This poem went on to inspire the artist Pierre Daura to create a painting that commemorates Bottcher and captures the tone of the poem which was anti-fascist. In this work, found in the Art Museum of Western Virginia's permanent collection, a Filipino kneels beside Bottcher's grave, marked with a cross and his helmet and covered with a palm leaf, and looks toward Heaven. He clearly contemplates Bottcher's sacrifice as his eyes are closed.
In an article published in the Saturday Evening Post on August 13, 1949, Lieutenant-General Robert L. Eichelberger (former commander in the Buna campaign) wrote that "On my recommendation, the Allied commander commissioned Bottcher as a captain of infantry for bravery on the field of battle. He was one of the best Americans I have ever known.... His combat experience was extremely useful at Buna, and his patriotism as a new American was vigorous and determined." According to Eichelberger, Bottcher was "Buna's greatest hero."