Veteran’s Testimony – Merwin Joseph DeKorp 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company

Captain Merwin J. DeKorp, QMC, O-406311, receives the Legion of Merit from Lieutenant General Waide H. Haislip, CG Seventh United States Army. Photo taken during the ceremony at Seventh U.S. Army Headquarters, Heidelberg, Germany, in August 1945 (authorized 17 June 1945).
Citation for Legion of Merit: “Captain Merwin J. DeKorp (O-406311), Quartermaster Corps, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services, as Commanding Officer, 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, attached to Seventh U.S. Army, from 25 August 1944 to 1 April 1945. Captain DeKorp was in charge operationally, of all Seventh U.S. Army Graves Registration activities in the field. He contributed brilliantly and unmeasurably to the success of a new and more efficient system of evacuation and identification of casualties, which has resulted in the lowest percentage of unidentified dead in the Theater. The neat and immaculate appearance of all Seventh U.S. Army Cemeteries, has impressed our Allies of the care given by the United States to its honored dead, and can be attributed in great measure to the distinction with which Captain M. J. DeKorp performed his mission. Entered military service from New York.”

Introduction:

Civilian Life – Pre War

Merwin Joseph DeKorp was born on 16 December 1912 in the Bronx, New York, to Sidney and Grace DeKorp and spent his young years in Brooklyn and later, as a teenager, lived in Manhattan on West 86th Street. He had only one brother. Dad excelled at his studies and graduated from High School at age 15. He then attended New York University and  was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in 1931 at age 19. During his undergraduate studies he participated in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) where he was promoted from Private to Corporal 19 November 1928, Corporal to Sergeant 22 October 1930, Sergeant to Staff Sergeant 23 March 1931, and finally Second Lieutenant by 4 March 1941.

Dad studied  law at New York University and obtained his Juris Doctor in 1932. He was selected as Editor of the “Law Review”, he told me, and after graduation and successfully passing the Bar exams (having been a member of the ROTC) served in the United States Army Reserve while practicing law in New York City.

General view of United States Military Cemetery # 2, Gela, Sicily. The Cemetery contained both American and enemy dead. It opened 21 July 1943 and closed 19 August 1944 (note the name of the 46th QM GR Co at the cemetery’s gate). Courtesy Jan Bos.


There is a photograph of our Father, his brother Harold (both in uniform), and his Parents in Richmond, Virginia (near Camp Lee) taken in fall 1941 and prior to his active duty status. It is unknown if he took some training at Camp Lee, Petersburg, Virginia (ASF Replacement Training Center –ed). His brother Harold retired as a Colonel in the US Air Force, after serving with the Army Air Corps.

World War Two:

Active Duty

Appointments/Promotions – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
Second Lieutenant – 6 January 1942
First Lieutenant – 19 August 1942
Captain – 18 March 1943
Major – 1 September 1945

Military Occupational Specialty – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
Motor Transport Officer – MOS 0600
Graves Registration Officer – MOS 2430

Dad received orders from the US War Department to enter “extended active duty” on 6 January 1942 as a Second Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 46th Quartermaster Company (Graves Registration) , activated 28 March 1942 at Fort Francis E. Warren, Cheyenne, Wyoming (initially Quartermaster Unit Training Center, then Quartermaster Replacement Training Center, and eventually Army Service Forces Training Center; total acreage 94,874; troop capacity 665 Officers and 16,518 Enlisted Men in 1944 -ed) as a Platoon Leader 11 May 1942. Second Lieutenant DeKorp was then appointed Motor Transport Officer, serving in both capacities until 31 December 1942. His following duties as S-2 Officer made him responsible for analysis and reporting of military intelligence and during the same period he was appointed XO of his unit.

Following a period of training at Fort Francis E. Warren, the Company departed the United States on 8 February 1943 for duty in North Africa, eventually landing in French Morocco, and serving in Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Italy,  Southern France, and Germany.

Overseas Assignments – Major Merwin J. DeKorp

Departure Zone of Interior – 8 February 1943 Arrival French Morocco – 20 February 1943
Departure French Morocco – 11 March 1943 Arrival Algeria – 13 March 1943
Departure Algeria – 10 May 1943 Arrival Tunisia – 11 May 1943
Departure Tunisia – 8 July 1943 Arrival Sicily – 10 July 1943
Departure Sicily – 5 June 1944 Arrival Italy – 5 June 1944
Departure Italy – 22 August 1944 Arrival Southern France – 25 August 1944
Departure France – 1 April 1945 Arrival Germany – 1 April 1945
Departure Germany – 15 September 1945 Arrival Zone of Interior 20 September 1945
Terminal Leave – 5 October 1945 > 1 February 1946 (incl.)
Relief from Active Duty – 1 February 1946 (Separation Center, Fort Logan, Denver, Colorado, Military Post)

Captain M. J. DeKorp in front of his 1/4-ton truck, Palermo, Sicily. Photo taken some time during August-September 1943.


Although initially intended to land in North Africa during Operation “Torch”, the 46th remained in the Zone of Interior for lack of sufficient shipping capacity. In fact Dad only arrived in French Morocco 20 February 1943. Following the general Allied tactical situation, he left for Algeria and later Tunisia, where his unit served under II Corps. Conforming with field instructions and in order to improve the overall situation with respect to GRS operations, Captain DeKorp was given additional command of the 47th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company from 1 May to 7 June 1943, inclusive. 
      
Almost coinciding with his promotion to Captain, M. J. “Bud” DeKorp, QMC, O-406311, became the Commanding Officer of the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company from 15  March 1943 until 6 June 1945. He was 30 years old when he was assigned to the 46th and 31 when he became the unit’s CO. 

Assignments – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
46th QM GR Co – 11 May 1942 (Platoon Leader & Motor Transport Officer)
46th QM GR Co – 1 January 1943 > 15 March 1943 (Military Intelligence Officer, Executive Officer)
46th QM GR Co – 15 March 1943 > 6 June 1945 (Commanding Officer)
47th QM GR Co – 1 May 1943 > 7 June 1943 (CO, additional command)
205th Quartermaster Battalion (Mobile) – 7 June 1945 (Executive Officer)
First Battalion, 271st Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division – September 1945

Having been selected to participate in Operation “Husky”, the invasion of Sicily, Dad’s unit was now assigned to support Seventh United States Army units. The 46th QM GR Co only landed on the island 14 July 1943, and assumed its responsibilities under the jurisdiction of the Island Base Section, reporting directly to Seventh Army Quartermaster Colonel Clyde Massey. Based upon the Company’s previous experience gained in North Africa and for reasons of practicability, Captain M. J. DeKorp was appointed Graves Registration Service Officer for the entire Island Base Section, Sicily on 15 September 1943. No doubt that his personal skills and ability made him the right person for the job. Dad thus became responsible for overall GRS activities and operations on Sicily until 5 June 1944, inclusive. The following units operated under his command: 46th QM GR Co48th QM GR Co 3044th QM GR Co. As IBS GRS Officer, Father and his men were instrumental in setting up the 4 major US Military Cemeteries on the island – Licata, Gela, Caronia, and Palermo.   

(During operations in Italy, the 46th worked under overall control of Fifth United States Army, which due to the vastness of the Italian mainland, assigned and attached different Graves Registration Platoons to specific areas and units. General GRS activities were accomplished by a number of different organizations including the 46th QM GR Co, with separate units being sent to Sardinia and Corsica –ed).

Letter of Commendation addressed to Captain M. J. DeKorp, CO, 46th QM GR Co, dated 13 December 1943, and signed by Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., CG, Seventh United States Army.


Following the arrival of the 46th QM GR Co in France (the unit landed on 25 August 1944 –ed), Captain DeKorp was made responsible for all Seventh United States Army GRS activities. In view of the large sector of operations involved, the Army Quartermaster preferred to centralize and consolidate field work. As a result of this Dad was also put in command of all other units temporarily attached to the 46th. 

After Nazi Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, our Father was transferred out of the 46th QM GR Co to join a unit that was returning home to the States. On 6 June 1945 Major DeKorp was relieved from assignment to the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company and appointed Executive Officer of the 205th Quartermaster Battalion (Mobile) 8 June 1945. He would serve with this unit until 27 August 1945.

Major M. J. De Korp shipped home with the “Queen Elizabeth” on 15 September 1945, as a member of the 271st Infantry Regiment (69th Infantry Division). The Regiment was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, Stelton, New Jersey, 22 September 1945.

Personal War Recollections and Experiences

Merwin J. DeKorp spoke little of the war, which considering the nature of his command, is understandable. He later told his son Roger that he didn’t know why he had been assigned to Graves Registration Service. He fought to be reassigned, but was unsuccessful. He did however state that once it was determined that this was his role, he would, to the very best of his ability fulfill the job and felt honor and duty-bound to the men who fought and died for their country, to provide them the most dignified burial that circumstances allowed and a final resting place of simple grace, beauty, and peace.
This is an example of that dedication: “Throughout operations the important theme was to properly identify every American deceased brought into the Cemetery. Laundry marks, shoe size, fingerprints, physical characteristics, precise location of death with regard to units operating in that area at the time, were but several of the numerous clues which were used to advantage in a determined and successful effort to identify those fallen in battle. By the end of November 1944, 3159 Americans and 1499 enemy were interred by members of this Company in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Epinal, France. Every American has been identified by name with the exception of one, and fingerprints have been taken of him.”
(excerpts – Report for the month of November 1944, dated 12 December 1944, signed by M. J. DeKorp, Captain QMC, Commanding –ed).

Captain M. J. “Bud” DeKorp (CO, 46th QM GR Co) and First Lieutenant Helen I. Hyatt (ANC Officer, 59th Evac Hosp), taking some leisure time at Paestum, Italy. Picture taken July 1944.


And this: In October 1944 Dad received a copy of a letter written by Chaplain (Captain) Joseph D. Barry (attached to the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division –ed) and dated 10 October 1944, addressed to the Commanding Officer of the 157th Infantry expressing his gratitude for the kind and humane manner in which Captain DeKorp and his staff supervised the arrangements for the burial service of Dan Jeffcoat (member of the 157th Inf Regt). The deceased’s brother Charles and his comrades wanted to thank the CO and his soldiers for the way they performed this most unattractive duty with respect and dignity and even went to the trouble to weave several small wreaths from wild flowers growing nearby.

Unfortunately our Father did not keep a diary, so in writing this Testimony we are relying on document copies kept by Dad, others obtained in the National Archives, some from the Quartermaster Corps, Fort Lee, notations made in Mom’s Memoirs, and personal conversations with Dad and Mom. Following are some anecdotal as well as factual events occurring during my Father’s (and Mother’s) war years spent in the Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operations.  

Dad met his future wife, First Lieutenant Helen I. Hyatt, ANC, N-742643, a Registered Nurse, in Palermo, Sicily, where she was serving with the 59th Evacuation Hospital. She had also served in North Africa prior to Sicily and more or less followed the same tour as the 46th through Sicily, Italy, Southern France, and Germany.
She said, they somehow stayed in the general area where their respective units operated and Dad was able to call on her after duty hours. In one location, he even drove in his jeep from his area in Naples down to Salerno (Paestum), quite a long trip, but he did it more than once.

The 59th Evac Hosp and the 46th QM GR Co remained in proximity to each other as battles progressed and campaigns expanded and Mom and Dad were able to keep in touch with each other and continue to meet  regularly while serving in Italy and Southern France. Apparently there were opportunities for an “active social life” along the way and Mom described Dad as loving to “jitterbug”. Dad was a persistent suitor and, once in France, they married 1 March 1945.

In Mom’s Memoirs she reported being very happy to learn that the American Cemetery at Epinal “is still in place.” She strongly believed that her husband’s unit, was as far, as she knew, the only GR unit to land and operate with the Seventh United States Army that came through Southern France, up Central France’s corridor, and into Germany. Mom also briefly related that on Christmas night 1944, Captain DeKorp’s unit was ‘pushed back’ by the German “bulge” in the Ardennes, and in later years, she remembered that Dad and his cook laughed about how bad they felt having to leave the Christmas turkeys cooking in the field ranges for the Germans…
She was also impressed by his mastery of the French language – able to communicate facilely with all they encountered.

Aerial view of Epinal American Cemetery, France (sited on a plateau 100 feet above the Moselle River in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, it contains the graves of 5,255 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the campaigns across northeastern France to the Rhine River and beyond into Germany. The Military Cemetery was established in October 1944 by the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, Seventh United States Army, as it drove northward from southern France through the Rhône Valley into Germany).


Dad was a recipient of the Legion of Merit and, although his parents knew, he never told his brother Harold (Lt. Colonel Harold Edward DeKorp, 1915-2006, who served in the Pacific Theater –ed). Harold DeKorp learned of it years after the war was over when he sat beside a stranger on an air flight and introduced himself, and the man remarked that DeKorp was such an unusual name, that he’d known only one other person with it, and that this man had been awarded the Legion of Merit! Uncle Harold told Mom he was shocked – he never knew.

From the few conversations we had with him about his war experiences, it was our clear impression that Dad greatly admired the men in his Company and how they respectfully and carefully identified and cared  for those G.I.s, Allies and, in some instances, enemy who were killed in the defense of their countries. I believe that those serving under him as well as his superiors held him in high regard too. I recall a cross-country family trip in 1949 when we stopped at a restaurant in Iowa where Dad met with one of his men and visited privately with him while Mom and I waited at a nearby table. I believe Dad exchanged letters with some of the men over the years. He told us of an occasion when he was invited to sit in on a game of bridge with Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley and Dad played impressively. His commendations of both a personal and professional nature attest to this as well.

Dad was injured, while stationed in Germany, when his jeep was strafed by a German aircraft causing it to overturn. He refused the “Purple Heart”, because he didn’t want his Mother to be notified of his injury and worry unnecessarily.

Personal Commendations and Awards

 Personal Commendations – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
Headquarters Seventh United States Army, Office of the Quartermaster, APO # 758, signed by
Colonel Clyde Massey, Quartermaster (dtd 12 Sep 43)
NATOUSA Chief Graves Registration Service Officer, signed by
Colonel Thomas R. Howard, Theater Graves Registration Service (dtd 10 Dec 43)
Headquarters Seventh United States Army, APO # 758, signed by
Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., US Army Commanding (dtd 13 Dec 43)
Headquarters Island Base Section and 10th Port, APO # 550, signed by
Major J. E. Sherry, Assistant Adjutant General (dtd 5 Mar 44)
Headquarters Island Base Section, Office of the Quartermaster General, APO # 550, signed by
Major R. S. Johnston (dtd 29 May 44)
Headquarters Seventh United States Army, Office of the Quartermaster, AP # 758, signed by
Brigadier General Clyde Massey (dtd 6 May 45)

Awards & Campaign Credits – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
Rome-Arno Campaign (Ltr MTOUSA AG 200.6/040 P-O dtd 10 Nov 44)
Rhineland Campaign (Ltr ETOUSA AG 200.6/OpGA dtd 28 Jun 45)
Central Europe Campaign (Ltr ETOUSA AG 200.6/OpGA dtd 26 Jun 45)

Left: All bodies are fingerprinted before burial, even enemy dead. The picture illustrates Graves Registration personnel fingerprinting a German corpse. The fingerprints will be forwarded through the International Committee of the Red Cross to the German authorities. Picture taken in January 1945 at Epinal American Cemetery, France.  
Right: A German PW is using a compressed air jackhammer to break frozen ground for a grave at Epinal American Cemetery, France. Picture taken 12 January 1945.

Decorations & Medals – Major Merwin J. DeKorp
American Campaign Medal
European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with 1 Bronze Arrowhead + 3 Bronze Battle Stars)
Legion of Merit Medal
Army Meritorious Service Unit Wreath
Five Overseas Service Bars

Among the many official Commendations are the following:

“By direction of the Secretary of War of the Army, under the provisions of Paragraph 17.1, Change 14, AR 600-45, Major Merwin J. DeKorp has been awarded the Army Commendation Ribbon for Meritorious Service during the period July 1943 to August 1943. The award is based on the Letter of Commendation dated 13 December 1943 from Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., Commanding General, Seventh United States Army.”  (excerpts – Letter to Major M. J. DeKorp, QM-Reserve, dated 12 October 1948, signed by the Adjutant General, Department of the Army, Office of The Adjutant General). 

The following Letters are also among others in Dad’s personal files:

“Dear Colonel Dicks:
I wish to express my appreciation for the efforts of Captain M. J. DeKorp, your Graves Registration Service Officer, while on temporary duty at this Headquarters.
Captain DeKorp has been of material assistance in the preparation of a plan for continued maintenance of United States Cemeteries in the Theater and has submitted many helpful suggestions for procedure and organization of Graves Registration Service.”
(excerpts – Letter to Colonel John L. Dicks, Quartermaster, Island Base Section, APO # 550, US Army, dated 10 December 1943, signed by Colonel Thomas R. Howard, Chief Quartermaster, GRSO).

“To: Commanding Officer, 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, APO 550.
The Quartermaster desires to commend you, your officers and men for the very excellent manner in which the dual duties of the Office of the Island Base Section Graves Registration Officer and the installation and operation of the Graves Registration Service  have been carried since 15 September 1943.
The manner of performance and the excellent results obtained by you and your organization reflect great credit upon you, your officers and men, and the military service in  general.”
(excerpts – Letter to Captain Merwin J. DeKorp, CO, 46th QM GR Co, Headquarters Island Base Section, APO # 550, dated 29 May 1944, signed by Major R. S. Johnston, Quartermaster).

Left: Epinal American Cemetery, France, under the snow. Picture taken during winter 1944-1945.
Right: Winter in Alsace, France. Typical landscape of the area around Epinal Cemetery.


Dad was also singled out in the document nominating the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company as a Distinguished Unit of the Quartermaster Regiment (subsequently inducted in 2003):
“A point that must not be overlooked or missed is the position of the Commanding Officer, Captain M. J. DeKorp, of the 46th QM GR Co, while he and his unit were assigned to the Seventh United States Army. From what can be gleaned from the unit journals and reports of Quartermaster Graves Registration Companies assigned to the Seventh US Army in the ETO, is that all these were attached to the 46th QM GR Co for operations. Who did what and where, as far as Graves Registration Operations within Seventh US Army area were Captain DeKorp’s responsibility: recovering the dead, opening cemeteries, operating cemeteries, closing cemeteries, opening and closing of collecting points, area search and recovery, and the utilization of assigned and attached personnel of these units.       
The 46th was without a doubt the most outstanding QM GR unit and no other organization can match its being in the forefront of the carrying of the Quartermaster Banner. The Commander and the entire complement of Officers and Enlisted Men of the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company were outstanding emissaries for the Quartermaster Corps. The organization upheld, on a continuous basis, the Honor and Traditions of the Quartermaster Corps in a superior manner in the Aleutian Islands, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and the European Theater of Operations.”
(excerpts – Letter to the Commanding General, The Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia, dated 21 October 2002, signed by Lt. Colonel Charles D. Butte (USA Ret).

End of World War Two:

Civilian Life – Post War

Dad was discharged from the Army as a Major as noted above. After first spending several days with his Parents in nearby Manhattan, he reunited with our Mother near her family home in Denver, Colorado, in October 1945. Dad was placed on terminal leave from 5 October 1945 to 1 February 1946, inclusive, at which date he was honorably discharged at the Fort Logan Separation Center, Denver, Colorado.

Finding work after the war was difficult for a returning G.I. – “too many of us and not enough jobs” Mom observed. Dad did find a job as office manager and salesman in a plow factory, while waiting for his Colorado law license to come through. Neither job nor license went well, and about a year later the family (which by then included daughter Jane –ed) moved back to Long Island, New York, where they lived for the next 21 years and raised their three children (Jane, Nancy, Roger –ed). In 1967 our Father began work with the New York Department of State in Albany where he was Counsel to the Secretary of State. 

Dad was all about hard work, responsibility, creative thinking, and helping others. He didn’t “suffer fools” and expected the same attributes in his children. He continued to love the “jitterbug” and always enjoyed a good party on New Year’s Eve. His best friends were hard working men who shared his work ethics, enthusiasm, and great sense of humor. He gave his legal expertise to those who needed help and organized neighborhood groups to protect their interests when needed and continued to be well respected by those who knew him either as a friend, a neighbor, or a colleague.

Copy of Letter addressed to the CG, 42d Infantry Division, concerning identification of an “unknown” American (designated X-72), buried at Bensheim American Cemetery, Germany, dated 6 June 1945, and signed by Captain Merwin J. DeKorp, CO, 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company.


Toward the end of his life (at age 60), Dad knew that his prognosis was grave and he expressed his wish to be buried “in a pine box on the day after he died and as simply as possible in a military cemetery” as other soldiers had been interred during the war.

To our great sadness Dad passed away on Flag Day, 14 June 1973 in upstate New York near his home in Claverack. It is unfortunate that at the time of his death there was a gravediggers strike at the National Cemetery located in New York, and state law determined the use of pine caskets was not allowed. Mom opted to lay him to rest in a cemetery near their home where many other veterans are also interred and close family was in attendance. Keeping with his wishes, he was buried the day after he died, 15 June 1973 – his son’s birthday. Our Mother now rests by his side both with gravestones provided by the Veterans Administration and with their military history displayed.


Special thanks must go to the DeKorp Family and more particularly to Jane DeKorp Verderosa and her siblings Roger and Nancy, for generously sharing many documents, photographs, and personal recollections relating to their Father Major Merwin J. DeKorp, QMC (O-406311) Commanding Officer, 46th QM GR Co. The MRC Staff are still looking for the unit’s official activation date and place; information about its early operation in the Aleutian Islands; and a complete Personnel Roster. Thank you for your assistance.

This page was printed from the WW2 US Medical Research Centre on 26th May 2019 at 02:04.
Read more: https://www.med-dept.com/veterans-testimonies/veterans-testimony-merwin-joseph-dekorp/