Private Frank J. Lapkiewicz (1915–1944)

Frank Lapkiewicz (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives, enhanced with MyHeritage)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Delaware, New JerseyManufacturing steel cables
BranchService Number
U.S. Army42085191
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “E,” 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
745 (rifleman)Battle of Brest, Rhineland campaign

Early Life & Family

Frank John Lapkiewicz was born in Wilmington, Delaware, possibly on March 27, 1915. He was the son of Leon Lapkiewicz (also known as Leo, a laborer, c. 1869–1939) and Aniela Lapkiewicz (also known as Nellie, c. 1880–1948), Polish immigrants. The couple and at least two of their children immigrated to the United States around 1906. Leon Lapkiewicz was recorded as a laborer and later as a dyer at a textile mill.

Lapkiewicz had at least three older brothers and an older sister. His brother, Anthony (1908–1960) served in the U.S. Army prior to and during the war.

The Lapkiewicz family was recorded on the census on January 4, 1920, living at 830 Bennett Street in Wilmington. Lapkiewicz apparently lived at least part of his childhood at 108 North Rodney Street in Wilmington, which his parents purchased on February 28, 1920, and sold on January 8, 1932.

As a youth, Lapkiewicz apparently got into trouble, since he was recorded on the next census—taken on April 10, 1930—as a pupil at the Ferris Industrial School, a facility for juvenile delinquents.

The Ferris Industrial School in 1934 (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

Census records indicate that Lapkiewicz moved to Trenton, New Jersey, prior to April 1, 1935. He was recorded on the census in April 1940 living at 2 Asbury Street in Trenton, New Jersey, and working as a baker. The census stated that he dropped out of school after completing the 8th grade. His mother was living at his home following Leon Lapkiewicz’s death roughly six months earlier. Later that year, when Lapkiewicz registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was living at 2 Rose Court in Trenton and working for the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company in Trenton. An unsigned statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, likely written by his mother, stated that Lapkiewicz made steel cables and listed his preservice address as 66 Asbury Street in Trenton.


Military Training & Battle of Brest

After he was drafted, Lapkiewicz joined the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on February 28, 1944. Once he completed his training, Lapkiewicz shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation, presumably as a replacement bound for the European Theater of Operations. His Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 745 (rifleman).

On September 3, 1944, Private Lapkiewicz was transferred from the 48th Replacement Battalion to the 29th Infantry Division. The following day, he joined Company “E,” 115th Infantry Regiment. The 115th Infantry was originally a Maryland National Guard unit. In fact, Company “E” had been based in Elkton, just across the state line from Delaware. After the 29th Infantry Division was federalized in 1941, men transferred into the division from all over the country. Though some guardsmen remained in the division during the three years leading up to the invasion of Normandy, after nearly three months of combat, virtually all of them had been killed or wounded.

Damage following combat outside Brest (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

When Lapkiewicz joined, the 29th Infantry Division was embroiled in the Battle of Brest. His company, part of 2nd Battalion, was in a quiet sector, but he had only two days to acclimate before his unit was ordered back to the front lines on September 5, 1944. Just after noon, British and American aircraft unleashed a major airstrike on Brest. 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 115th Infantry began a cautious advance the next day. On September 7, 1944, they continued to probe the German lines with patrols. The Germans ambushed a patrol from Lapkiewicz’s company near Kerrognant, killing four men.

American reconnaissance found Kerrognant to be well fortified and the Germans had clear fields of fire for a quarter of a mile in front of their positions. The terrain meant that 2nd Battalion could not easily receive any support from neighboring battalions. However longstanding supply woes affecting VIII Corps had finally been solved and generous quantities of artillery shells were available to plaster the enemy positions prior to the infantry assault. The attack began the morning of September 8, 1944, with a pincer movement. Company “G” quickly dashed across the field to east side of the enemy lines, where intense close-range firefights broke out between the American infantry and German paratroopers. In the meantime, Lapkiewicz’s Company “E” hit the west end of the German positions. After eight hours of fighting, the German position was untenable.

In his book, From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August – September 1944, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

By late afternoon, pressure from Rideout’s and Parsch’s companies was steadily squeezing the enemy out of Kerrognant. The wily Germans, however, had held open a secure escape route until the last moment, so that when the vengeful 29ers finally burst into the enemy’s battered dugouts and pillboxes at about 6 P.M., an observer noted with some regret: “Kerrognant was occupied only by the German dead.”

The following morning, Companies “E” and “G” captured the château at Kerguillo. That evening, they turned their gains over to the 8th Infantry Division and moved to the area of La Trinité to support the 116th Infantry Regiment.

On September 14, 1944, Lapkiewicz’s battalion launched another attack near Fort Montbarey. Balkoski wrote: “On a broad front of over 800 yards, [Lieutenant Colonel Tony] Miller’s men jumped off at 8 A.M. with orders to penetrate the belt of German fortifications south of Montbarey, but they ran into immediate trouble” from German machine guns and even antiaircraft guns. After American airstrikes and artillery fire softened up the German positions, Companies “E” and “G” led another attack that afternoon. Although the Americans made progress, taking some enemy pillboxes, a German counterattack that evening hit the battalion hard, especially Companies “G” and “H.”

A company morning report stated that Lapkiewicz was slightly injured in action on September 16, 1944, shortly before Brest fell. The 2nd Battalion journal stated that Companies “E” and “G” launched an attack that afternoon at 1500 hours, with Company “E” later reporting “1 killed, 3 wounded going over hedgerow.”

Ruins at Brest on September 19, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-194574, Fold3)

Two days later, the members of the German garrison began surrendering en masse. The Battle of Brest was a Pyrrhic victory for the Americans, as the Germans had enough time to demolish Brest’s port facilities so thoroughly that they were unusable for the remainder of the war. In the end, the Allies successfully supplied their armies without the Breton ports.


Rhineland Campaign

Lapkiewicz was treated first in France and then in England. During his recovery, the 29th Infantry Division moved northeast to the front near the Dutch-German border. By then, the Allies had liberated most of France and Belgium and some of the Netherlands. However, as summer of 1944 turned to fall, the Allied pursuit slowed as their supply lines lengthened and German forces regrouped. The 29th Infantry Division’s sector was quiet, with regular patrolling and a few limited but costly attacks that did little to change the overall strategic picture.

Private Lapkiewicz made it back to the 29th Infantry Division in time to participate in a mid-November offensive in the Rhineland. The Allied supply problems were not entirely solved and fall weather would benefit the defenders, but halting operations until spring was unpalatable for Allied leaders. In his book, From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944, Balkoski wrote:

If concentration of strength was one of the core prerequisites of any successful military operation, [Major General William Hood] Simpson’s Ninth Army would certainly begin the November offensive with a major advantage over the Germans. The Ninth would launch its attack across a frontage of less than ten miles, shorter by far than the sector held by the 29th Division alone for most of October. [Major General Raymond] McLain planned to crowd three divisions into that zone: the 2nd Armored Division in the north, the 29th Division in the center, and 30th Division in the south—all veteran organizations that had been fighting side-by-side in the XIX Corps under Generals [Charles H.] Corlett and McLain for more than a month and, before that, in Normandy.

In another book, Our Tortured Souls: The 29th Infantry Division in the Rhineland, November – December 1944, Balkoski explained the challenges that the Allied offensive faced despite their superiority in manpower and firepower:

          Warfare in the Rhineland in November differed fundamentally from warfare in Normandy in July, and for the U.S. Army to match its earlier victory, it would have to overcome some acute handicaps. Above all, to achieve success, the Americans needed to see what they were shooting at, and their massive firepower, on both the ground and in the air, would be considerably diminished as inevitable late-autumn overcast, rain, and eventually snow set in, and the interval between sunrise and sunset lessened by the day—in due course to only eight hours. At the height of the Normandy campaign, in contrast, seventeen hours of daylight had worked to the Allies’ advantage. 

Aerial view of the area of the Rhineland that the 115th Infantry Regiment fought in during November 1944, from the regimental after action report (Courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History Maryland Museum of Military History)

          On the Rhineland’s monotonous, level pastures, virtually no high ground existed from which American observers could distinguish enemy strongpoints and call down pinpoint artillery fire and air strikes to neutralize them. […] Further, in the omnipresent mud of a Rhineland autumn, U.S. Army tankers would face severe difficulties when operating their vehicles off the hard-surface roads, thereby limiting the Americans’ mobility and tactical options when assaulting a tough German strongpoint.

There were many of those strongpoints in accordance with the German doctrine of defense in depth. Furthermore, Balkoski continued:

The Americans would find that achieving surprise—the cardinal principle of a successful offensive—was almost impossible. Simpson’s army could hardly hide its massive buildup on such a narrow front. Too, the Americans’ axis of attack was obvious, as their mechanized forces would be much more mobile on the flat Rhineland terrain rather than the rougher and forested ground further south.

The offensive was tentatively scheduled to begin on November 11, 1944, so long as the weather was suitable for the air support that planners deemed essential. Cloudy autumn weather delayed the offensive day after day. In the meantime, on November 14, 1944, now recovered from his injuries, Private Lapkiewicz returned to Company “E,” 115th Infantry Regiment, transferring from the 18th Replacement Depot.

The offensive finally began on the afternoon of November 16, 1944, preceded by both air and artillery bombardments. Oddly enough, the 29th Infantry Division commander, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (1895–1976), committed his division in piecemeal fashion. Only 1st Battalions of the 115th and 175th Infantry Regiments attacked, rather than the usual doctrine of “two up, one back” (two attacking and one in reserve) in which Gerhardt would have committed as many as six of the division’s infantry battalions. The two battalions suffered heavily casualties for little gain. The following afternoon, Gerhardt committed 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry, along with 2nd Battalion, 175th Infantry. They too suffered heavy casualties. Private Lapkiewicz’s battalion (2nd Battalion, 115th Infantry) remained in reserve at Baesweiler until the following day.

On the morning of November 18, 1944, the third day of the offensive, the 29th Infantry Division renewed its assault with the support of armor from the 747th Tank Battalion and captured the town of Siersdorf. Colonel McDaniel ordered 2nd Battalion of the 115th Infantry to take the nearby coal mine. That afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Miller skillfully maneuvered his battalion to minimize their exposure to enemy fire, with Companies “F” and “G” leading the attack and Private Lapkiewicz’s Company “E” in reserve. The battalion took their objective with only light casualties. The 29th Infantry Division also captured the towns of Bettendorf and Setterich that day.

The following morning, November 19, 1944, 2nd Battalion attacked Dürboslar. Like the day before, Companies “F” and “G” led the attack, while most of Company “E” remained in reserve. Supported by two platoons of tanks, they easily overran the village. Following their standard doctrine, the Germans immediately launched a counterattack with 12 assault guns. Balkoski wrote that although the Americans destroyed two with bazooka fire, the other 10 “continued to blast Dürboslar for the rest of the afternoon from fields on the town’s periphery.”

Major Victor Gillespie, who took over command of 2nd Battalion after Colonel Miller was wounded that morning, committed Private Lapkiewicz’s Company “E” to defend Dürboslar. Balkoski wrote:

The 2nd Battalion’s antitank platoon, equipped with three 57-millimeter guns, accompanied Company E, and one of its members, PFC Francis McKenna noted, “It was 1:30 P.M. when we got orders to move out.…Things couldn’t have been any hotter than being in the muddy fields with shells falling all around. We started out and about 300 yards from the town some of our planes, not recognizing us, started strafing us.”

Sometime that day, Lapkiewicz was seriously wounded in action. The exact circumstances of his injury are unclear, and there are no extant hospital admission cards with his service number. As McKenna’s account suggests, it is possible that Lapkiewicz was wounded by fire from the German assault guns or artillery but he may also have fallen victim to friendly aircraft. Reinforced by 3rd Battalion, American forces narrowly repulsed another counterattack against Dürboslar on November 20, 1944.

Private Lapkiewicz was evacuated to a hospital in the United Kingdom but succumbed to his wounds on December 6, 1944. As was so often the case, it took a long time for word to reach his family. On December 27, 1944, Journal-Every Evening reported that he was wounded, adding that “Mrs. Lapkiewicz received word last week from the War Department that her son is not progressing satisfactorily, and that they would continue to notify her of his condition.” It was only on March 12, 1945, that the paper reported his death on an official casualty report.

Lapkiewicz’s headstone at the Cambridge American Cemetery (Courtesy of Geoff Roecker)

Lapkiewicz was buried at the Cambridge Cemetery in England (Plot U, Row 5, Grave 22). After the war, he was reburied in the permanent cemetery there now known as the Cambridge American Cemetery (Plot G, Row 6, Grave 158).


Notes

Date of Birth

Discrepancies are common in fallen World War II soldiers’ birthdates, though usually it is the year that is inconsistent, not month and day. Lapkiewicz’s draft card listed his date of birth as March 27, 1915. Similarly, the 1920 census stated that he was four years and four months old as of January 4, 1920.

Curiously, though his name does not appear in the Wilmington Birth Register in 1915, there is an entry reporting the birth of a Frank Lapkiewicz at 1005 Beech Street on February 10, 1913. The father was recorded as Leon Lapkiewicz, which would seem to be the correct man, and the mother’s maiden name was listed as Amila Lukas, which certainly could be his mother: his mother’s maiden name was listed as Nellie Lukiewska in the statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission. Similarly, his older brother Anthony’s death certificate listed her name as Aniela Lukiewska.

It appears likely, if not certain, that the 1913 entry lists Lapkiewicz’s parents, but is it him? That would mean that both his draft card and the census were wrong. Another possibility is that the Frank Lapkiewicz born in 1913 died very young, and his parents gave the same name to their next son, who was born in 1915.

Mother 

Aniela Lapkiewicz remarried to John Dudzinski after Leon Lapkiewicz’s death. Aniela Dudzinkski died in Wilmington General Hospital on July 14, 1948. 

Photo Enhancement 

The photo at the top of this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (in this case, because the original print was damaged and somewhat blurry). I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below. 

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Geoff Roecker and the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

“2 Delaware Men Killed; 5 Wounded.” Journal-Every Evening, December 27, 1944. Pg. 1 and 15. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/104934064/lapkiewicz-wounded/

“3 Delaware Soldiers Die, 5 Are Wounded.” Journal-Every Evening, March 12, 1945. Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/104934188/lapkiewicz-dow/

Aniela (Nellie) Dudzinksi death certificate. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9H-Q3CW-B

“Anthony Lapkiewicz.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/111167658/anthony-lapkiewicz

Balkoski, Joseph. Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2005.

Balkoski, Joseph. From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August – September 1944. Stackpole Books, 2008.

Balkoski, Joseph. From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944. Stackpole Books, 2010.

Balkoski, Joseph. Our Tortured Souls: The 29th Infantry Division in the Rhineland, November – December 1944. Stackpole Books, 2013.

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_256953-00372, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257055-00579

Frank J. Lapkiewicz Individual Military Service Record, c. 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/19603/rec/1

Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949. Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–c. 1995. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_647350_0541-00969

“Journal 2nd Battalion, 115th Infantry.” September 1944. Maryland Museum of Military History, Baltimore, Maryland.

“Leon Lapkiewicz.” Trenton Evening Times, September 28, 1939. Pg. 7

Morning reports for Company “E,” 115th Infantry Regiment. September – November 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. U.S. Army Morning Reports, c. 1912–1946. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295770-00780

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00634

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-02434-00565

Wilmington Birth Register, 1909–1912. Record Group 1500.205.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GBC2-S1J

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=42085191&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=8296573   

WWII Draft Registration Cards for New Jersey, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44025_08_00046-00960


Last updated on September 9, 2022

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