Roy Kroesen fought with the 696th Field Artillery in WWII

Sgt. Roy Kroesen of Rotonda, Fla. in his Army dress uniform in 1945. He fought with the American 696th Field Artillery Battalion across Europe during World War II. Photo provided

Ninety-one-year-old former Sgt. Roy Kroesen of Rotonda commanded “The Priest,” a 105 mm, M-7 self-propelled Howitzer in World War II that looked a lot like a tank. He served with the 696th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, which came ashore at Pont-Scorff, France, on Aug. 7, 1944, and fought through France, Belgium and Germany, eventually meeting the Russian Army at the Elbe River near Berlin.

But the blue-eyed, bright-faced smiling former soldier remembers little about the major battles in which he and his unit took part during the Second World War. An elaborate map produced by his outfit after the war showing the circuitous route the 696th took as it fought its way across Europe was given to the survivors. Framed on his wall at home, this was the old soldier’s most specific reminder of where he was and what he accomplished during the war.

The 696th Armored Field Artillery was attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge. His unit helped rescue the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, Belgium, during the Bulge.

“All I remember about the Battle of the Bulge is that it was cold as hell,” Kroesen said. “We drove the Germans back at the Bulge. They were running away when we finished with them there.”

Long before his unit reached Belgium, and the biggest battle on the Western Front, it saw action at Chateaubriant, La Fleche, Zedome, Orleans, Sens, Troyes, Houdelain Court and Nancy, the elaborate map on Kroesen ‘s wall notes.

At Nancy, Patton’s 3rd Army — including Kroesen ‘s 696th Battalion — was held up waiting for more ammunition and gas. In November 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in Europe, gave the goods to British Gen. Bernard Montgomery, commander of the 21st Army Group, on Patton’s flank.

Asked about these battles, Kroesen smiled and said, “I don’t remember; it was all so long ago.”

What he does recall is going into every French town and city on their way through Europe, and he and his buddies being met by greeting committees.

“The French had bottles of wine for us in every town we went into. Then one day we got to this town and there was no wine for the liberators and no committee to meet us. It was Aachen, Germany, the first enemy town we captured along the Belgium-German border,” he said.

On through Germany his unit fought as it captured Waldenburg, Pommelte, Barby and Winterswick. The 696th finally reached the Elbe River near Berlin.

“From March 27 to April 20, the 696th Battalion fought in support of the 2nd Armored Division. On April 21 to May 3, it supported the 83rd Infantry Division, and on April 15, it became the first American armored battalion to cross the Elbe,” according to the map.

Kroesen ‘s unit made contact with the Russian Army at the Elbe on May 4, 1945 — four days before Germany surrendered.

This elaborate map, prepared by Sgt. Roy Kroesen’s battalion after the war, shows where the 696th Field Artillery fought. He’s pointing to Bastogne, Belgium, where it took on the Germans during the Battle for the Bulge in World War II. Sun photo by Don Moore

The map also notes he and his unit fought in the Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central European campaigns. The 696th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was on the front line for nine months, drove 2,275 total combat miles and fired 75,974 rounds of 105 mm shells at the enemy.

All Kroesen is certain about is that he was there on the front line in his M-7 self-propelled Howitzer fighting through it all.

For the past few years he has lived with his daughter, Mary Hutchinson, and her family in Rotonda. Almost 30 years ago, Kroesen and his wife, Mary, moved to this area from Pennsylvania; she has since passed away. He was born in Trenton, N.J.


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. This is another American veteran that should be remembered. He is a 20th century liberator. Thank you to Don for building and maintaining the site.

  2. My father, Herb Holland, also served with the 696th FA Battalion during WWII. The story of this unit is told in the book “Cockney” by Robert W. McCormick, and through the map pictured above (my dad has a copy of that map also). On page 200, it shows a “Earl L. Kroesen” on the roster for C Battery in June 1945. I wonder if this is the same fellow as Roy Kroesen…

  3. My dad,Jesse Leroy Gregg,served with the 696th.Very cool to find any info.I have the map hanging on my wall.

  4. My dad, Mike Saracino also served with the 696th. I was so surprised to see the map as I also have one framed. I also have a copy of typewritten notes. The heading states Headquarters 696 Armored Field Artillery. The three pages of notes list the outstanding achievements of this organization during combat from 7 August 1944 thru 24 March 1945. My dad never talked about his time serving our country but now I have a strong desire to learn more.

    • Carol – could you scan the three pages of notes? I’d really like to get a copy of them since my dad was in this unit. Please contact me at “recumbent80@gmail.com”.

  5. I have that same map hanging in our house. My dad is listed in the lower right hand corner….Capt. Harry E Walb…..very proud of all in the 696th!!

  6. My father donated a copy of the 696th’s map (pictured in the article on Roy Kroesen, above) to the University of Minnesota, and they provided me with a high-resolution digital scan of it. If anyone would like a copy of the scan, contact me at “recumbent80@gmail.com”. And if you know anything about who commissioned the map, when and where it was printed (Germany, France, United States, etc.), and how soldiers got their copies back to their homes, please add a comment below or write me with any information you have. Thank you!

  7. My father has two copies of the map featured above. One with hand written notes (that he still has) and one he gave to me and now hangs above my home office desk.
    It is my understanding he carried the maps back with him in his duffle, along with some war souvenirs and wine. The souvenirs he discarded soon after arrival and the wine bottles broke during the trip back, which might explain why he never kept his uniform.
    He turns 93 next month and still in good shape and memory. Once in awhile a story or two arise at the Thanksgiving table, but it not a heroic conversation. He felt sad for the civilians on both sides who took the brunt of the punishment in the war.

    • Most soldiers, contrary to popular opinion, did not come back as heroes. Most soldiers would tell you that. Most soldiers were ordinary people who pushed papers and followed orders. We’ve found many who never fired a weapon against the enemy.

      If you’ve read enough of the stories here on this website, you’ll see that there were truck drivers, shower builders and paper pushers. There were gardeners – the soldiers had to be fed. There were medics. We don’t mean disrespect by not calling every soldier a hero, as we respect and appreciate all who wore the uniform.

      We’ve also discovered, and it may be the case for your father, he saw some things that haunt him to this day. We’ve interviewed men who, 75 years later, still cry at their memories. We can only imagine what they witnessed.

  8. My Dad was also in the 696th he was a radioman and had it really bad, He would never talk to us about it. Although one day He broke down and told my Grandmother and they both cried but never told us. He passed away at the age of 43 due to some war issues internally. He got a purple heart, a bronze star and a silver star. Unfortunately I never saw or knew of a map until today. He had a $20 bill and he wrote down all the names of the battles and towns but once when he was laid off from the USS Steel mill in Homestead,pa he had to spend it to buy food for his children. If anyone could get me a copy of the map so I can share it with my 4 Grandsons I would greatly appreciate it. My name is Joseph Kotow email jmkotow47@gmail or kotow@hotmail.com Thank you

  9. My dad was also in the 696th. I have no information. Dad would not talk about it. Any information you could give would be greatly appreciated.

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