Leo Deon Ballegeer
28th Infantry Division, 109th Infantry Regiment
Before the War
On June 9, 1919, Leo Deon Ballegeer was born in Omaha, Nebraska and grew up as the only child of Camiel Ballegeer and Zulma (Balcaen) Ballegeer. His father, Camiel, worked as a carpenter and later worked for the Fallstaff Brewing Company in Omaha. His mother stayed home, in a house which was owned by the family and cared for her son. Before he was drafted in 1941 – four days before his twenty-second birthday – Ballegeer worked as a contractor at the Peter Kiewit Company in Omaha City.
Ballegeer was a first generation American. Both of his parents were born in Belgium and immigrated before World War I. His mother made the journey in February 1913. At age 24, she travelled with her 21-year-old sister, Bertha Helena Balcaen, to the United States. They left Belgium from Antwerp to arrive approximately ten days later in Ellis Island, New York. Both women settled in Omaha, Nebraska.
His father undertook a longer journey to arrive in the United States. He first immigrated to Canada at age 22. Two years later, he entered the United States at Noyes, Minnesota, in December 1915. By 1916, he moved to Omaha and one year later, married Zulma Balcaen on February 3, 1917.
Leo Ballegeer’s family grew steadily in Omaha. His aunt, Bertha Helena Balcaen, married and started a family of her own. A few months later, Odile Balcaen, his mother’s brother, also arrived in the United States. Just like his two sisters, Odile settled in Omaha and started his own family. After the Armistice in November 1918 and the death of his grandfather in 1919 in Belgium, his grandmother Felicita (Verstraete) Balcaen decided to join the family in the U.S. She was accompanied by her youngest son, Achiel Balcaen, and Felicita and Achiel shared a home in Omaha, Nebraska.
Leo Ballegeer grew up in a small family home but with a lot of relatives living nearby. He graduated from Omaha South High School in 1936 and became an apprentice carpenter. Just like his father at the time, he worked in construction before being drafted in 1941.
Ballegeer was drafted and reported for duty on June 3, 1941 at the Ness Building Recruiting Station in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was part of the tenth draft call.
Training at Camp Roberts
Ballegeer trained at Camp Roberts, California. He entered the U.S. Army as a private but by August 1942 Ballegeer received a promotion to the grade of corporal. He served with the 79th Infantry Training Battalion, Company B.
During this period his girlfriend, Elizabeth Ann Tresnak, moved from Omaha, Nebraska to California to be closer to him. Just like Ballegeer, she graduated from Omaha South High School. They married in 1942 and in the following months a daughter, Nancy Lee, was born.
“Let the citizens bear arms!”
In September 1944, the training period ended for Ballegeer and the U.S. Army called his unit to the European Theater of Operations, more specifically to France. He was assigned to the 28th Infantry Division, 109th Infantry Regiment.
The 109th Infantry Regiment adopted the motto, “Cives Arma Ferant,” which means “Let the citizens bear arms.” Many members of this unit served in the National Guard and many others were drafted into service.
On July 22, 1944, the 28th Infantry Division landed on Omaha Beach, just six weeks after the Normandy landings. The division fought its way through the hedgerows of the Norman countryside and participated in the liberation parade in Paris in August 1944. The division needed to resupply and train new replacements. Ballegeer was one of those replacement troops.
In September 1944, the 28th Infantry Division passed through Belgium and Luxembourg into Germany. The 109th Infantry Regiment became the first troops to invade German territory during World War II. On September 11, 1944, the men seized control of the Our River bridge. Thankfully, they found the structure still intact, despite its proximity to the fighting.
Two days later, the 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments overcame heavy opposition from the Germans at the west wall of the Siegfried Line, just west of Großkampenberg, Germany. Heavy German resistance forced the advance to a halt, but the 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments advanced again in October. At the end of the month, the 28th Infantry Division occupied a sector near the German towns of Germeter and Vossenack, just across the border of Belgium and Germany.
German troops fled most of France and Belgium and took a defensive position alongside their country’s borders. This Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine River became known as the Siegfried Line Campaign.
On November 2, 1944 the 109th Infantry Regiment received orders to advance north towards the town of Hürtgen, Germany. Ballegeer, as part of Company A, 3rd Platoon, experienced one of the darkest periods for the 28th Infantry Division: the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest.
The fighting was fierce in the Hürtgen. Soldiers dealt with extreme weather conditions, the worst recorded in years. It was bitter cold in the woods, roads became inaccessible, and aerial support was limited.
Captain Max R. Whitetree of Company A noted afterwards that “the 1st and 2nd platoons had lost a lot of men from mortar fire and machine gun fire.” Whitetree described the fighting conditions in this area, writing “the woods were so thick in this sector that in many cases we were using hand grenades because they were more effective then rifle fire.” The reconnaissance done by the 28th Infantry Division before the battle was limited at best. Whitetree stated that, “Jerry [the Germans] seemed to know exactly where we were at all times.”
On November 6, 1944, Ballegeer was awarded a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for exemplary conduct in action against the enemy.
Lack of familiarity with the terrain led to confusion. Whitetree stated on November 11, 1944, “I ran into Sgt Ballegeer and found that he had been able to get all his platoon back into Vossenack. The Sgt then went back and brought all the A Co men he could find and we placed them on the Co objective.”
During the actions in the Hürtgen Forest, Ballegeer showed his leadership skills. When Captain Whitetree received word that the command post was surrounded, he “sent Sgt Ballegeer back with a squad to help them. He killed five Germans and took five PWs [Prisoners of War].”
Major General Norman Cota ordered the 28th Infantry Division out of the Hürtgen on November 13, but A Company of the 109th Infantry Regiment was not relieved by the 8th Infantry Division, 28th Infantry Regiment until November 20.
Between November 2 and November 13, 1944, the 28th Infantry Division lost more than 5,000 men, pushed an additional 4,500 reserve troops to the front lines.
Battle of the Bulge
Just four weeks after the 109th Infantry Regiment exited the Hürtgen Forest, they found themselves in the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge. The regiment headed for Diekirch, Luxembourg and occupied billets in town.
For the rest of November and the start of December 1944 the 109th Infantry Regiment occupied a defensive zone along the west bank of the Our River. They were placed in a quiet sector to have time to re-organize and carry out an extensive training program. The soldiers were also given rest and had access to recreation facilities, Red Cross writing rooms, shows, and showers.
On December 16, 1944 the Germans started their last great offensive during World War II. The goal of the campaign (Wacht am Rhein in German) was to attack through the Ardennes and split the American and British armies on their way to Antwerp.
When the Germans attacked in the early morning on December 16, 1944, the 2nd and 3rd Battalion came under heavy fire. The reserve battalion was immediately alerted. Company A was ordered north of Longsdorf, Luxembourg to establish communication and resupply Company E, but they were unable to advance.
On December 18, 1944 enemy resistance increased while Company A attempted to reach the town of Fouhren, Luxembourg. A flank attack threatened their position.
The unit was ordered to withdraw towards the high ground north and east of Diekirch at 8 p.m. on December 18, 1944. Fierce German artillery attacks drove the unit to the high grounds around Ettelbruck the following night.
It was during these withdrawal movements that Ballegeer went missing in the area of Bettendorf, Luxembourg. Later reports indicated he lost his life caused by shrapnel in his waist.
Mrs. Elizabeth Ballegeer, the wife of Leo Ballegeer, received a telegram on January 20, 1945, notifying her that her husband had been reported missing in action (MIA) since December 21, 1944. On February 18, 1945, she received a second telegram reporting her husband as killed in action (KIA) on December 21, 1944.
Leo Ballegeer was buried on February 18, 1945, in the temporary cemetery 6020 in Hamm, Luxembourg, which later became the permanent Luxembourg American Cemetery. His wife wrote to the Quartermaster General in August 1945 to request information about the repatriation of her husband. Two years later, in the summer of 1947, she was asked to make the choice since she was listed as next of kin. She chose to leave her husband in Luxembourg.
His body remained in the temporary burial spot until disinterment in June 1948. On December 13, 1948, a reburial ceremony was held. His remains were reburied in Luxembourg American Cemetery where he now rests permanently. Ten days later, on December 23, 1948, a flag was sent to his family and they were also notified about the permanent reburial.
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