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Five GIs capture German town

Veterans Day is four days from now, celebrated Nov. 11 as always, but this year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“German town is captured by Lt. Manketo and 4 comrades”

This headline was in the Paterson Evening News over this unusual, happy-ending story late in WWII by five guys who took this daring chance, not really knowing what they were going to encounter.

(Special to The Paterson News)

“WITH THE 89th INFANTRY DIVISION IN GERMANY — Usually it’s the infantry which captures the towns and prisoners, but here’s a case where five anti-aircraft men roared into town in their jeep, captured the place and brought back a flock of PW’s [prisoners of war] to be turned over to flabbergasted men of the 89th Infantry Division.

“Second Lt. John O’Brien, of Battery B, 550th AA Battalion, attached to the 89th Division, learned from an officer PW that the town of Hahn, about six miles up the road was ready to give up.

“O’Brien, who hails from Montclair, N.J., told First Lt. Abe S. Manketo of Paterson, N.J., and they decided on a small ‘raid.’ They took with them Staff Sgt. W. Gronkoski of Buffalo, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Jack Baranowski and PFC. Jerome Greenberg, both of New York.

“The five piled into their jeep, ‘No Brains,’ and rode into the town, which was four miles past the infantry lines, not six as they were told. There they found a garrison of two officers and 31 enlisted men, ready to give themselves up.

“While lining up the prisoners, Lt. Manketo was accosted by a character in civilian clothes, who said he was a German soldier on sick leave and did the Americans want him too. ‘Sure,’ said Lt. Manketo, ‘go change your clothes and we’ll wait.’

“So the Nazi hustled off and came back a bit later, dressed in Wehrmacht regalia, to join the roving AA’s.

“Lt. Manketo was employed by The Evening News circulation department before entering service. [His circulation job, after the war, became a newspaper distribution business.] He is the husband of Mrs. Florence Manketo and the son of Mrs. Rose Manketo, both of 300 17th Avenue in Paterson.”

Excerpts from a letter

“Lt. Abe Manketo has discovered a new and definitely trying angle of modern warfare — speed. His unit serving in France has been hedge-hopping across the country.

“In a recent letter Lt. Manketo revealed that he has been to the front lines many times during his travels — ‘I was part of the big push that you heard about, it’s been pretty rough at times. We were given the job of protecting the famous bottleneck here and were visited nightly by the Luftwaffe.'”

[With the speed of the Allied advance, the Germans attempted to slow that advance by setting up a “major obstacle” in a small town 100 miles North of Marseille, which became known as the “bottleneck” that Abe referred to in his letter.]

“As a result of the hasty retreat of the Germans, Manketo’s personal property [Abe apparently never lost his sense of humor] is growing. ‘I have two beautiful horses, they only understand German, but I hope to teach them English before I hand them over to some deserving French farmer. I also have a German motorcycle and a half-track. That should give you an idea how close we have been to the enemy.

“‘The roads here are also cluttered with destroyed equipment. There was a tank, an automobile, a motorcycle, a wagon, clothing, food and rifles every 50 yards for about 50 miles.’

“The young officer, throughout the letter shows evidence of the strain of the fast movement by emphasizing how tired he and the rest of the boys are.”

Lt. Manketo was in the Normandy landing, served in northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe. Among other medals he received was the European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Medal with Bronze Arrowhead. The Arrowhead was attached to the medals of those men who “participated in Airborne or Amphibious assault landings.”

Abe went into the service in December 1942 and was discharged in December 1946 at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

To my spousal equivalent, Ruth Chasolen, he is known as Uncle Abe, a brother of Ruth’s mother Rhoda Manketo Chalfin. He is also Uncle Abe to Vicki Monaloy and Larry Chalfin.

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