John Reynolds Bender entered the U.S. Army in March, 1941, as a chaplain and was part of the cadre of the newly formed 3d Armored Division. He trained with the 3d AD at Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, in Louisiana, and the Mojave Desert in California. The desert training was reportedly under the command of General George S. Patton. Gen. Patton allotted each man only one gallon of water per day for all personal needs, which was not much when the temperature was quite hot.
The 3d AD landed in England in 1943 and then in Normandy on June 21, 1944. Chaplain Bender was assigned to the 33d Armored Regiment, which was part of Combat Command B, under the command of General Boudinot. He was also assigned to Task Force Lovelady and served with its medical aid station. During the 3d AD's dash across Europe, Chaplain Bender brought comfort to those sick and wounded who came to the medical aid station.
Keeping up with the rapid progress of the 3d AD, Chaplain Bender and his comrades were occasionally exposed to enemy artillery fire, which often zeroed in on crossroads. On one occasion, a particularly severe bombardment left him deaf for three days. Their column on occasion also came under enemy air attacks and he claimed that his column was once strafed by a German jet aircraft, the ME-262.
Task Force Lovelady was one of the first units to break through the Siegfried Line and the first force since Napoleon to capture a German town, Roetgen. Chaplain Bender's home town newspaper reported the claim that he was the first Chaplain through the Siegfried Line, the first in the city of Cologne and also Paderborn, Germany, where the Ruhr Pocket was closed, sealing the defeat of Germany. Paderborn was also where the great 3d Armored Division commander, General Maurice Rose, was killed in action. See about this event Glenn Shaunce's story on this website, he was the driver for General Rose.
Near the end of the war, Task Force Lovelady's HQ company and medical aid station were surrounded by SS troops. These units, including Chaplain Bender, were captured near Dessau, Germany. The captured troops, along with a number of wounded, were herded into a cellar, fearing that their captors would toss grenades into the cellar. Twenty-four hours and three counter-attacks later, the captured troops were rescued by Task Force Lovelady.
The 3d Armored Division, one of only two US Army heavy armored divisions in Europe, was nearly always leading the First US Army‚s advance through Europe and ranks as one of the great US Army divisions of World War II. The 3d AD led the breakout in Normandy, the race across France and into Belgium. Besides being the first to capture a German town, the 3d AD was the first into Belgium and the first into and through the Siegfried Line.
In its dash to close the Ruhr Pocket (also known as the Rose Pocket in honor of the late General Maurice Rose), the 3d AD advanced over 90 miles in twenty-four hours, a record advance against opposition. Besides being led by General Rose, who was nearly always very at the front lines, the 3d AD was also led by the great VII Corps commander, General Lawton Collins. Gen. Collins had previous combat experience leading a US Army division in the Pacific theater. The First Army was led by the great General Courtney Hodges. Very few Americans have ever heard of these three extraordinary men.
Chaplain Bender earned the Bronze Star, five battle stars for the European campaign: Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Germany. Task Force Lovelady was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. As a member of the 3d Armored Division, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Silver Gilt Star by the French government and the Fouragere by the Belgian government.
In September, 1945 Chaplain Bender returned to the United States, was discharged and resumed duties as a Lutheran Minister in Paulding, Ohio. He returned to active duty in 1948 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1964. Upon retirement, he started a new congregation at Ascension Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Ohio. Chaplain Bender died on July 12, 1978 in West Chester, Ohio and is buried in the Dayton, Ohio National Cemetery..
Written by Frank Bender,
Proud son of John R. Bender.