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Alvin Ungerleider
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Alvin Ungerleider



115th Infantry Regiment

Mittelbau Dora, Nordhausen

April 11th, 1945

Survived the war?
Wounded but survived
29th Infantry Division

29th Infantry Division

Liberating Mittelbau Dora

He had landed with the 115th Regiment on D-Day, fought in the Battle for Brest and across France, Belgium and into Germany, but nothing prepared 1st Lt. Alvin Ungerleider, a battle-hardened, twice- wounded soldier, for what he saw behind the gate of the Nazi slave labor camp at Dora-Mittelbau near Nordhausen, Germany on April 11, 1945.

“Suddenly we were in hell!” said Ungerleider, who was second in command of Company I of the Third Battalion. “We witnessed the sight of dead bodies, of human beings in the worst state of degradation.”

Lt. Ungerleider, just 23 years old at the time, was likely part of an advance party of the 115th, scouting routes and bivouac areas when they came to Dora-Mittelbau, according to Joseph Balkoski, 29th Division Historian.

“There were dead bodies everywhere. There were thousands of bodies.” said Morton Waitzman, who served with Lt. Ungerleider.

Nearly a year before liberating the camp, Ungerleider had led 50 men from the 115th Regiment ashore at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. They were in the second wave of U.S. troops who hit the beach in the Normandy invasion along the northern coast of France. The invasion changed the course of the war by leading to the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Germany’s control.

The prisoners at Dora-Mittelbau had dug tunnels for a huge German underground arms factory where V-2 missiles were to be manufactured, and then were forced to work on their production. While the 115th had been ordered toward Dora-Mittelbau, those orders were unexpectedly changed, and the Regiment redirected toward the Elbe River. However, Ungerleider and his men were apparently unaware of those new orders and continued toward the horrors that would greet his unit, along with members of the 104th Infantry and 821st Tank Destroyer Battalion.

“Al Ungerleider and I were together on this mission. As we neared the camp, we started to get machine gun fire from two small towers in the distance,” wrote Edward Burke in From Omaha Beach to the Elbe River. “Two of my tank destroyers destroyed the towers and my tank destroyer along with another crashed through the front gates. The machine gunners were killed, we captured about 44 prisoners and the rest of the Germans escaped,” wrote Burke.

“Those of us who were there, have to describe one of the main horrors was the intensity of the smell,” said Waitzman, “from those bodies that had been there for a while.” They found but a relative handful of living prisoners, perhaps 300. As the Germans realized defeat and the end of the war was near, in March they began moving over 30.000 slave laborers to hide their crimes, according to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Most were sent to their deaths at Bergen-Belsen, thousands were murdered en route. In one case, several thousand prisoners, mostly Jews, were burned to death in a barn near the village of Gardelegen. The figures that emerged from the wooden barracks at Dora-Mittelbau "were human cadavers," Ungerleider recalled. "They were sick. They could hardly stand. Others, covered with lice and sores, were too weak to crawl from their bunks.”

"There was absolute horror at what we saw. Then we asked, 'What can we do to help?'"

Ungerleider, a Jew, spoke Yiddish to the survivors and grouped the Jewish prisoners together to recite the Kaddish, the mourning prayer for the dead, and only then did the prisoners realize they had been liberated. "I cried all the way through it," he said. He and his men gave them the food they had, and Ungerleider then ordered nearby German villagers, who claimed ignorance of the slave labor camp, to return with food and warned them of their own punishment should they not.

Lt. Ungerleider and PFC William Melander then went to a building at one end of the camp and found the crematorium ovens inside with all of the doors closed. Ungerleider told Melander to bring his M1 Rifle ready to fire as he opened the first door. Ungerleider said as he approached the next door, he felt a tingle all through his body. As he opened the door, there was a German soldier with a Luger Pistol aimed at them. Fortunately, Billy was faster on the trigger and he pumped eight shots into the German as fast as he could pull the trigger.

Outside there was a railroad siding with two empty box cars. Their cargo of dead bodies had been stacked up like cordwood, 4 to 5 feet high against the back wall of the crematorium. While Ungerleider, who was later honored at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as a liberator, had witnessed the carnage of D- Day, the bloody Battle for Brest and other terrors of war, what he saw at Dora-Mittelbau is what would haunt him for the rest of his life.

It was "burned into my brain and my soul like nothing else in my life. I've had many nightmares over the years about what happened at Nordhausen,” said Ungerleider who died in 2011 at the age of 89.

This account of Lt. Alvin Ungerleider’s role in liberating a Nazi slave labor camp was written by his son Neil Ungerleider in 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the day that brought freedom to many. Alvin Ungerleider served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before retiring in 1978. He was awarded a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with three OLC, and the French Legion d’honneur. In 1994, he escorted President Clinton for the wreath laying at the American Cemetery in Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

A big thank you to Neil Ungerleider.

115th Infantry Regiment

On 3 February 1941, the First Maryland Infantry Regiment, Maryland Army National Guard, was inducted into federal service as the 115th Infantry Regiment at Frederick, Maryland as part of the second partial mobilization of the National Guard for World War II, and then moved to Fort George G. Meade on 18 February 1941 to join the 29th Infantry Division. The regiment completed in-processing, traded in its equipment for modern equipment, and started to repeat its division level training. It was then transferred to the A.P. Hill Military Reservation on 22 April 1942 to participate in maneuvers, and then moved to the Carolina Maneuvers to participate in large unit maneuvers on 8 July 1942. It then moved on to Camp Blanding to fill its empty personnel slots on 19 August 1942, and then staged at Camp Kilmer on 20 September 1942, and shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on 5 October 1942 on the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. They arrived in England on 11 October 1942, and then were attached to the 1st Infantry Division in preparation for the D-Day invasion. They moved with the 1st Infantry Division from 2 June 1944, and remained with 1st Infantry Division until 7 June 1944, when they returned to the 29th Infantry Division for further operations. Their participation in the Normandy Campaign continued until it was over on 24 July 1944. They immediately moved into the Northern France Campaign on 25 July 1944, which continued until it was over on 14 September 1944.

During this period the 115th Infantry Regiment was engaged in one of the war's forgotten chapters, "The Battle of Brest". The Battle for Brest was one of the fiercest battles fought during Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout of Normandy which began on 27 July 1944, during the Battle of Normandy during World War II.

Part of the Allied plan for the invasion of mainland Europe called for the capture of port facilities, in order to ensure the timely delivery of the enormous amount of war material required to supply the invading Allied forces (it was estimated that the 37 Allied divisions to be on the continent by September 1944 would need 26.000 tons of supplies each day). The main port the Allied forces hoped to seize and put into their service was Brest, in northwestern France.

Brest also served as a major German U-boat base from 18 June 1940 until its surrender to U.S. forces during the Brittany Campaign.

The 115th Infantry then started participation in the Rhineland Campaign on 15 September 1944, whereupon the 115th Infantry crossed from France to Belgium and the Netherlands both on 27 September 1944, and entered Germany on 30 September 1944.

This campaign continued unabated until 21 March 1945, and the 115th Infantry did not take part in the Ardennes Campaign. With the end of the Rhineland Campaign, the 115th Infantry moved to the Central Europe Campaign on 22 March 1945, which continued until the end of Hostilities, which took place on 8 May 1945, but the campaign was not declared terminated until 11 May 1945.

The 115th Infantry was on occupation duty at Bremen, Germany on VE Day, and this continued through 1946. The regiment returned to the New York Port of Embarkation on 16 January 1946, and mustered out at Camp Kilmer the next day.

The 115th Regiment sustained 5.948 casualties during the fighting in Europe. Campaign streamers for Normandy (with arrowhead), North France, Rhineland, and Central Europe were added to the colors. Additional decorations included a distinguished unit streamer embroidered "St. Laurent-Sur-Mer," a streamer in the colors of the French Croix du Guerre with palms embroidered "St. Laurent-Sur-Mer," and, for the First Battalion, a streamer in the colors of the French Croix du Guerre with Silver Star embroidered "St. Lo."

Veteran's personal medals
Purple hear with Oak Leaf Cluster
Purple hear with Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star with 3 Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star with 3 Oak Leaf Cluster
Victory Medal
Victory Medal
French Legion d' Honneur
French Legion d' Honneur
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