U.S. Army engineers emerge from the woods and move out of defensive positions after fighting in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.

U.S. Army engineers emerge from the woods and move out of defensive positions after fighting in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. (Army Center of Military History)

(Tribune News Service) — Three days before Christmas 1944, two Schuylkill County, Pa., soldiers participated in one of the most important aspects of the Battle of the Bulge.

Pfc. James E. Kerwick, of Cass Twp., and Cpl. Vincent Moran, of Pottsville, were awarded Certificates of Merit for their participation in combat that prevented German forces from breaking through the Allied front at Monschau, a village near the border of Germany and Belgium.

Maj. Gen. Louis A. Craig, commanding officer of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, issued the certificates in recognition of “conspicuously meritorious and outstanding performance of military duty,” the Pottsville Republican reported.

Kerwick and Moran were members of Battery C, 863rd Anti-aircraft, Artillery and Automatic Weapons Battalion.

James S. Kerwick, a Cressona resident, said his father rarely talked about his experience in World War II.

“It was only when he passed that we found pictures he had taken and other memorabilia from the war,” the son said.

Kerwick’s citation reads: “For meritorious service under fire on December, 22, 1944, Private First Class Kerwick volunteered to help lay a wire line from battalion headquarters to his battery during extremely heavy shelling and while an enemy artillery attack was in progress. His services aided in establishment of communications with the battalion at a time when they were of extreme importance. His attention to duty is highly commendable and in keeping with the best interests of the United States Army.”

Moran received a similar citation from the Army’s European Theater of Operations.

The Battle of the Bulge was waged from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945.

It was the last major German offensive of the war on the western front.

Fought amid frigid temperatures, snow, sleet and rain, it was particularly brutal. In addition to battle casualties, troops suffered trench foot, pneumonia and frostbite.

It was one of the largest and bloodiest battles the U.S. waged in World War II and ranks among the deadliest in American history.

The Germans planned to use key routes near Monschau to seize Antwerp, Belgium, and force a separate peace with the U.S. and Britain. The success of the strategy was so important that Adolf Hitler committed his best armored units to the area.

The fighting around Monschau raged for 10 days, and artillery units, like the one in which Kerwick and Moran served, played a key outcome in the Allied victory.

‘Heroic job’

Under the headline, “2 County Soldiers Are Cited For Heroic Job in Nazi Push,” the Pottsville Republican said action performed by the 863rd Battalion was “a job that is destined to go down in anti-aircraft history.”

A story in Stars and Stripes, the Army’s official newspaper, expressed the belief that it was the first time in warfare history that quadruple-mounted 50 mm guns were used horizontally against an enemy, the Republican reported.

“During this critical battle, the 863rd was temporarily assigned to support three infantry units, and for almost two days held off the Nazis until the infantry arrived to halt the German drive,” the Republican reported.

“The spirit of cooperation and the skilled performance of an unfamiliar task exhibited by all members of the battalion during this critical period asserted materially in the successful defense of the Monschau-Hofen-Kolterherberg sector and is worthy of high commendation,” an Army citation read.

Kerwick and Moran grew up a few houses apart in Black Heath, a coal patch in Cass Twp.

“How they ended up together is a mystery,” Kerwick’s son said.

His grandfather, Sylvester Kerwick, was a first sergeant in the Army’s cavalry in Europe during World War I, James S. Kerwick said.

Sylvester Kerwick would go on to become a teacher and athletic director at Cass Twp. High School.

Later, Sylvester and his son, James E. Kerwick, would open Kerwick’s Leather Goods on South Centre Street, between Pomeroy’s and the Miners National Bank, in Pottsville.

James E. Kerwick graduated from Cass Twp. High School in 1939, and attended West Chester State Teachers College until entering the service in May 1942. He had two brothers who also served in World War II.

His wife, the former Betty Loftus, and daughter, Jane, lived in Saint Clair while Kerwick was in the service. He died in May 1998, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Pottsville.

Moran worked for The Miners Journal newspaper before entering the service. Two of his brothers also served in World War II: Francis Moran was a prisoner of war in Germany, while Charles Moran served in the Philippines.

(c)2022 The Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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