Saturday, May 24, 2014

Staff Sergeant James Russell Van Fossen - Staunton, Virginia and Company L, 116th Infantry Regiment

It seems appropriate on this Memorial Day weekend to remember a soldier from our area who served 70 years ago but is hardly remembered today. He might be better remembered, but I believe that his story has been obscured by the incorrect recording of his name.

70-years ago, Bill Shadel reported in an article recently republished by The American Rifleman about the exploits of a Technical Sergeant James R. Foffen of Staunton, VA. There is no such person mentioned/listed in either the Staunton area or in service records in any source that I have researched but there was a TSGT or SSG James R Van Fossen from Staunton. Van Fossen enlisted 3 Feb 1941 and was a member of Company L, 116th Infantry. A diligent search reveals that James Russell Van Fossen was born 13 Sep 1921 to Grover Cleveland Tucker and Georgia (Anthony) Van Fossen in the Pastures district of Augusta County in Virginia (outside of Staunton) and died 31 Oct 1969. He is buried in West Augusta cemetery with his wife, Helen M (Smith) Van Fossen. It is very common for both the "Van" to be omitted from family names which use it and for hand scribbled "s"s to be misread as "f". Put the two errors together and you have "Foffen".

From Mr. Shadel's report:
Technical Sergeant James R. Foffen, of Staunton, Va., was working along a hedgerow as a scout, in one of the larger fields. He spotted three Germans moving out ahead, trying to sneak along to a safer position behind the next hedgerow. Setting his sights at an estimated range of 400 yds., Foffen fired and knocked one down. The other two stopped to pick up the wounded Jerry and Foffen got in another shot. There were now two wounded Jerries, one evidently able to get away under his own power, the other, by this time, dragged to quickk cover by the third German. When our advance caught up, the man first wounded was still there.

This wasn't the only report about TSGT Foffen/Van Fossen. This report was from 29th Division - 116th Regiment - 3rd Battalion - L Company- Group Critique Notes. This critique was held at Brest, France, on 20 Sept. 44. The chief witnesses were Captain McGrath, who was not with L at that time, but witnessed the Company movements, Sgt John W. White, Sgt Herman E. Rowe, Pfc Goodwin P. Dallas, Pfc Tony J. Sokolowski, Pvt Willie J. Ortego, Sgt Joseph R. Daya and Pfc J. O. Davies. All these men were NCOs in the higher brackets by the time of the interview. They were in agreement as to facts.
A BAR man, Pfc Elwood J. Watts, in endeavoring to work up to high ground ahead of the Company, got into the road and drew direct fire. He went on frd, made a brief recon, then rtd to the Company position and told Lieutenant Ira C. Nelson that he thought he had lacated one source of fire. He then went frd again, and was shot through the knees in crossing the road. Nelson, S/Sgt James R. Van Fossen, and two riflemen went on up to him and got him frd to the high ground. There, they got a line on the enemy fire coming from an emplacement at the RJ just short of Les Moulins. They engaged, and remained there all afternoon, directing what fire they had against the enemy. The fire in the meantime had cut across their rear and they became isolated. Boat team N° 4 tried to advance around one flank toward the enemy position, but the attack wilted under heavy fire. N° 1 tried it around the other flank and was driven back. Late in the afternoon, Nelson got back to the Co line; the others remained frd, covering Watts.

I am convinced that Staff or Technical Sergeant James Russell Van Fossen was the person mentioned in both incidents. I think that he should be so remembered and honored for his service.

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