George O. Mergenthaler was born in 1921 and lived on Purchase Street in Rye with his parents Alice and Herman Mergenthaler and his maternal grandfather George Sweeney. He was the only son of the family. His paternal grandfather Ottmar Mergenthaler was the inventor of the Linotype machine in 1886. He graduated from Princeton University and was a classmate of Archibald Graham McIlwaine II. His family were members of the Church of the Resurrection and George enlisted in U.S. Army during World War II. George Mergenthaler was a member of a Mechanized Reconnaissance Unit of the 28th Infantry Division. The division left the United States and went overseas on 8 October 1943, arriving in South Wales soon afterwards, where it began training for the invasion of Northern France. On 22 July 1944, the division landed in Normandy, seven weeks after the initial D-Day landings and was almost immediately involved in Operation Cobra.
The 28th Infantry Division pushed east towards the French capital of Paris through the Bocage, its roads littered with abandoned tanks and bloated, stinking corpses of men and animals. In little more than a month after landing at the Normandy beachhead, as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy, George and the men of the 28th entered Paris and were given the honor of marching down the Champs-Elysées on 29 August 1944 in the hastily arranged Liberation of Paris. After enjoying a brief respite, absorbing replacements of men and equipment, the division headed to the German defensive Siegfried Line.
The 28th suffered excessive casualties that autumn in the costly and ill-conceived Battle of Hürtgen Forest (19 September to 16 December 1944). The divisional history conceded "the division accomplished little" in the campaign. The campaign was the longest continuous battle of World War II. Finally, a tenuous line along the Our and Sauer Rivers was held at the end of November and George moved into the town of Eschweiler, Luxembourg . Because George spoke German, he was able to speak to everyone and was immediately embraced. A daily church attendee, the local priest allowed George and another soldier to live at the presbytery. He even dressed up as a helper with a local dressed as St Nicolas, distributing sweets to local children. Everybody loved George. But after a month in the town, the Battle of the Bulge broke out and Eschweiler was surrounded by the German army.
The Battle of the Bulge Offensive was launched along the entire 28th Division front by the 5th Panzer Army led by General von Manteuffel. The 28th, which had sustained heavy casualties in the Hürtgen Forest, fought doggedly in place using all available personnel and threw off the enemy timetable before withdrawing to Neufchâteau on 22 December for reorganization, as its units had been badly mauled On December 18, 1944 George Mergenthaler's unit was ambushed by the enemy in Luxemburg. George was in the middle of the convoy in a jeep. He jumped to the rear seat of the vehicle and took control of the 50 caliber machine-gun and urged his fellow soldiers to run to a ditch. His machine gun jammed twice; the second jamming afforded a wounded German soldier to crawl behind George and kill him at close range with a short burst from his submachine gun. George Mergenthaler died near the town he came to adopt, Eschweiler, Luxembourg The people of Eschweiler were heartbroken. They carried his body in a coffin through the town, reburied him in the cemetery next to the remains of the church, and notified his family. The Mergenthalers were so moved, they offered to assist in the rebuilding of St Maurice Church. The church still stands today and has a mural behind the altar, depicting Jesus feeding the masses with the help of an apostle dressed in an army uniform. The windows are also dedicated to George Mergenthaler, his family and the United States Army. COMMENDATIONS
★ World War II Victory Medal
★ Purple Heart
★ Combat Infantryman Badge
★ Marksmanship Badge
★ American Campaign Medal
★ Army Presidential Unit Citation
★ Army Good Conduct Medal
★ European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign
President Ronald Reagan remembers George Mergenthaler in a Toast to the Grand Duke of Luxembourg at the State Dinner November 13, 1984
"Forty years ago, Your Highness, Americans and Luxembourgers fought side by side to liberate your nation. Throughout America today, there are thousands of men who can still recall the tear-streaked faces of your people when they realized that at long last they were free.
To me, the most memorable story is about a strapping young American named George Mergenthaler.
For several weeks, George was stationed in the village of Eschweiler, in World War II. He had a winning personality, and before long, the good people of Eschweiler took him into their homes and hearts. They told him what life in the village had been like before the war and then during the Nazi occupation. And George, in turn, opened his heart. He told the people that he was an only son, told them all his hopes for when the war was over. And in those few weeks, a deep bond formed between the people of that ancient village and the amiable young Yankee.
Some time afterward, the people of Eschweiler learned that George had taken part in a fierce battle on the plains between Luxembourg and Belgium. It was called the Battle of the Bulge. And it cost George his life.
Today, 40 years later, there is still a plaque honoring George Mergenthaler in the Eschweiler village church. It reads simply: ``This only son died that others sons might live in love and peace".
Well, Your Highness, today our sons and daughters know that peace. And the bond between our nations is truly a bond of love."
President Ronald Reagan
See Video of Toast Below