The life and death of PFC Solomon D. Mosner

The life and death of PFC Solomon D. Mosner

About a year and a half ago, I came across a notice in The Jewish Veteran magazine from a Madame Fabrice Dubois in Belgium. She was looking for information about Private First Class Solomon D. Mosner, who was killed in action on Jan. 18, 1945. At the time, I glanced at the article and gave no further thought to it.

Several months later I came across the same announcement and decided to respond. I wrote to Madame Dubois, who wrote back that she had visited the U.S. Military Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, and came across Private Mosner’s grave. She had started a campaign to care for the grave and was trying to learn more about this person buried thousands of miles from his home in the United States.

I tried to find his military records, hoping for information about his family or friends. Unfortunately, military records from World War II had been destroyed in a 1973 fire at the main repository for such information in St Louis, Mo.

The discovery of Solomon D. Mosner’s grave, in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, sparked a search for his history.

I tried to contact several people with the last name of Mosner, who might be relatives, but had no luck. Still, I was able to learn the unit that Private Mosner was assigned to, as well as the probable circumstances of his death.

Solomon D. Mosner was born in Queens on Jan. 26, 1926. His father was Abraham and his mother may have been Sarah. His grandfather, whose name may also have been Abraham, emigrated from Probuzna in Poland.

Sollie – as I have come to call him – was 3 1/2 when the stock market crashed in October 1929, leading to the great Depression that strangled the economic lifeblood of this country for many years. By January 1939, Sollie had most likely concluded his Hebrew school education and stood before his proud family at the synagogue for his bar mitzvah.

But while he and his family and friends rejoiced, in Europe oppression was terrorizing the Jewish people in Germany, and then occupied parts of Europe such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. After May 10, 1940, the circle of horror would dramatically widen as the Nazi invaded France, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The success of the Nazi advance opened the door to the full horror of the Holocaust.

As catastrophic world events swirled around him, Sollie may have attended high school in Queens, graduating in 1943. His scant military records indicate that he attended college for almost a year before enlisting in the Army, in April 1944. He was processed at Camp Upton in Long Island. (During both the First and Second World Wars, Camp Upton was a major transit center for troops going overseas.)

We don’t know where Private Mosner received his basic and advanced military training. At that time, a soldier would not be sent overseas until he had been in service for at least six months.

While Sollie was undergoing his training in the United States, on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, Allied forces landed in Normandy, France, to start liberating Western Europe from Nazi tyranny. In July, the Allies finally broke out of the Normandy enclave and, by the end of August, were able to free much of France. They liberated Paris on Aug. 25 and made a quick thrust toward the German border by September.

For Sollie, still undergoing his training in the United States, his thoughts might have been mixed. He may have felt sad that the war would end before he was sent overseas and could fight the Germans. Or he may have been happy that the war was going to end shortly and he could resume his studies.

By late fall, the Allied advance in Europe had ground to a halt. Among the reasons: a disastrous operation code-named “Market Garden” in Holland, where the Allies suffered a stinging defeat. Also, significant delays in supplying the Allied forces that had rapidly moved from the Normandy coast toward Germany, outrunning their logistical support. And unfortunate disputes among the various Allied commanders over the progress and direction of the continued Allied advance. This gave the Germans a chance to regroup after their devastating defeat in France.

By early October, the German army, reorganized and refitted, was again a potent threat. I assume that Private Mosner had arrived in Europe in the late fall, and, after spending time in a replacement depot in France, was assigned to the 78th Infantry Division. He was then assigned to its 311th Infantry Regiment.

On Dec. 16, the Nazis attacked the Allied forces in the Ardennes area of Belgium to begin what would later be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 78th Division participated in the battle, and that is where Sollie faced his greatest danger. The German objective was to capture the major port of Antwerp and cut the Allied forces in half. If successful, the Germans might then have attempted to negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies and concentrate on fighting the Russians.

After the Allies stopped the German advance in Belgium and Luxembourg, they went on the offensive and crossed into Germany. The fighting encountered by the Americans was difficult, in great part because of a terrible winter. At times, the troops had to fight in waist-high snowdrifts in below-zero weather against desperate and fanatical Germans fighting on their home soil.

It was in one of these battles that the world lost Sollie. On Jan. 18, 1945, in the small town of Birath, Germany, Private First Class Solomon D. Mosner, serial number 42130652, was killed. According to combat reports of the 311th Regiment, the soldiers were heavily engaged in crossing the Siegfried Line, destroying German fortifications, and fighting against an SS Panzer (tank) division. On one engagement near Birath within a day or so of Sollie’s death, a unit of the 311th sent out 40 soldiers to capture a position, with only eight or nine surviving. During January and February of 1945, the 78th Division sustained very heavy casualties, including Private First Class Mosner.

Sollie died just a few weeks short of his 19th birthday.

I wondered what his life would have been if he had survived. Sollie represents just one person whose life was cut too short. The world will never know what his contributions to society or his family could have been. The only reminder on this planet of Private First Class Solomon D. Mosner is his tombstone. He was a person who had friends and family, yet the memory of his existence has for all practical purposes been blotted out.

As we consider all the thousands of men and women, of all backgrounds, who died to protect our freedom, we must not forget what their friends and family lost for generations to come. The loss of one person ripples like a stone thrown into a pool of water. The names of these patriots on memorial plaques or monuments are those of people whose loss was not only for their friends and family, but for all of us.

I would like to thank Madame Fabrice Dubois for her kindness and generosity in caring for Private Mosner’s grave. As an American, I respect her for not forgetting about the sacrifices of an earlier generation of Americans who freed Belgium from fear of and occupation by a murderous regime.

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