By Peter Sloggatt
Growing up, I thought every kid’s dad had a drawer full of Army medals.
As a child, I liked to nose around in the top drawer of my father’s dresser. It was full of exotic things, like tie bars and cufflinks, old watches, coins from foreign countries, dog tags and Army medals. There was a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. I liked to take them from their black presentation boxes, feel their weight and run a finger along their sculpted outlines.
Dad also kept his Army helmet sitting around. It had two bullet holes in it. One in the front where a sniper’s bullet went in; the other, a jagged one in the back where the bullet made its exit.
It turns out not every kid’s dad came home with medals.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I grasped the significance of those medals. I was at a ceremony hosted by our local congressman to award World War II service medals to several hundred veterans. In the program listing their names, there were symbols next to some: one asterisk marked bronze medal recipients; two asterisks, silver medal recipients. There was not a lot of either.
My dad, Lt. Arthur Hastings Sloggatt, was a tank commander with Company A, 781st Tank Division. The division, formed in 1942 at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, helped develop modern tank warfare. While still stateside, they tested tanks, giving feedback on the pros and cons of various prototypes. Their reports resulted in the mass-production of the Sherman M4A3 medium tank as well as the development of tank-supported infantry tactics.
The 781st arrived in Europe in October 1944, landing at the port of Marseille in France, just as Patton’s Seventh Army was poised to enter Germany. The job was to push through the Nazi-held Maginot line fortresses, break through the Siegfried line and cross the Rhine to take the city of Manheim, a heavily-defended industrial city. Their first stop was Bitche, a medieval fortress in France that had never been breached. It fell to a relentless pounding of artillery.
Meanwhile, A Company was attached to the 399th regiment of the 100th Infantry in an attack on the town of Lemberg just to the south, an operation that saw most of the company awarded the Bronze Star.
If that’s where dad picked up his, I don’t know. Because like many of his generation, he did not speak much of the war. He came home, got a job, started a family, put the medals in his top drawer and put the war behind him.
What I have learned of my father’s service comes from recently declassified military documents, a unit history on the 781st, and a recently published book, “Duty Before Self,” which details the 781st and its role in tank warfare. It was through this book that I learned for the first time of the circumstances behind my father being awarded the Silver Star, the third highest military award the nation can give.
It was late in the war – May, 1945 – and Company A hooked up with elements of the 10th Armored Division advancing on the town of Schongau when they hit a pocket of resistance. Author John Mitzel recounts: “2nd Lt. Arthur Sloggatt was advancing as the lead tank with his combat team when they encountered small-arms fire and fire from an SP gun. Lt. Sloggatt dismounted from his tank, and ignoring the hail of bullets, went forward on foot to recon the situation. Despite being wounded by small arms fire, from his lead position he directed the fire from his section and succeeded in knocking out the SP gun.”
Once they were able to advance and secure the situation, “It was a surprise to find that the defenders were trying to protect two battalions of horse-drawn artillery, which surrendered along with 100 POWs,” Mitzel wrote. “For his bravery, Lt. Sloggatt was awarded the Silver Star, and he also got a Purple Heart.”
So, my dad was a badass.
It was news to me. When I knew him, he’d traded his tank for a station wagon and his rifle for a pen. A talented artist, he first went to work as one of Robert Ripley’s artists producing the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” cartoon panels, and later became a political cartoonist for the New York Daily Mirror.
He and my mom, the former Dorothea Green, had married during the war and after their first child died in infancy, they considered every child a gift. In all, they raised nine of us. I was the last, and just three years old when the Mirror folded. Dad managed to keep us clothed and fed while working as a freelance artist for nearly 10 years after that before eventually taking a job as a corporate director.
Like so many members of what journalist Dan Rather called the “greatest generation,” my father did what he had to, no doubt witnessing terrible things, but left the war behind to raise a family and build a great nation.
Arthur Sloggatt will be honored this Sunday at Huntington Town Hall at 9 a.m., where a Veterans Day ceremony will recognize the Huntington Kiwanis Club’s Field of Honor flag program, which will continue to adorn Town Hall’s front lawn until Dec. 8.